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Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Ecology in the Vedas

Posted by Raunak Mahajan on June 10, 2014

Rakshas Tal

Last week on the occasion of World Environment Day, I attended a talk that highlighted the occurrence of ecological themes in our religious scriptures. The speaker presented to the audience the “Bhumi Sukta”, a 63 verse hymn from the Atharva Veda, believed to belong to the Vedic Period around 1500 BC. The hymn is a beautiful prayer to “Mother Earth” with words like,

“Mother Earth, may whatever I dig from you grow back again quickly, and may we not injure you by our labor”

I was surprised to hear subjects of renewable resources and alike in hymns more than three millennia old. But then again, human intelligence is not a function of time.

The 40 minute talk was followed by an open for all discussion. As I sat back and heard experts exchange opinions, I wondered how successful the “Save the Earth” initiative has been over the last few decades. A world wide initiative that began in Stockholm in the 1970s has certainly raised a lot of awareness. The developed world and its consumers have seemingly taken the lead in this by voicing protests against exploitation of resources on their lands. However, such an approach has only led to the “export of pollution”. What used to happen on your soil in the past is now happening on mine. Industrial pollution and uncontrollable mining is ruining the ecological balance in India but it is conveniently hidden from the sights and sounds of the developed world. And the mirage of economic prosperity has blinded most Indians towards the existence of an alternative greener way of life. It is not our fault either. With almost half the population surviving on less that a dollar a day, I do not expect a green revolution in India. It is not fair to ask a hand to mouth laborer to fight for the environment at the cost of his own survival and that of his family. So while the developed world has outsourced pollution to the developing world and continues to fuel it by its uncontrollable consumerism, I do not see an end to this menace. The developing countries and their population are just too poor to resist the greed of survival. It is unfortunate that I have to label survival as a greed. As to why I do that can be the topic of another post.

Lastly, the environmentalists have got the message wrong. Its not the Earth that needs saving, its us.

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Bath Towels and Marketing

Posted by Raunak Mahajan on December 20, 2013

Seen in my hotel bathroom in Mauritius:

Before putting away the towels for wash think of the large amounts of detergents that go into washing them and the millions of such pollutants entering our waters.

A similar message in my hotel bathroom in India:

Millions of liters of water are used daily in washing bath towels. Put the towels away for wash only if you think they need one. Help conserve water.

I find the above two statements beautiful examples of using behavioral science in putting across messages that are effective. In Mauritius, there is water aplenty. It is not the scarcity of water that concerns people, but the pollution of this natural resource that they hold dear. In India, the depleting water levels are a major worry and wastage of water connects better with the locals. Pollution is secondary because no matter how the water is, we can somehow clean it. The primary focus is the presence of water.

A Marketing Manager would normally duplicate messages across different geographical regions. A Real Marketing Manager would study such underlying differences and tweak the message accordingly. I guess that’s the difference between Good and Great!

Posted in Management Consulting, Travel | Tagged: , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Modern day Segregation

Posted by Raunak Mahajan on August 2, 2013

untouchables caste india

The “untouchables” constituted the lowest rung of the caste system in India. Centuries of reform movements have alleviated the sufferings of those condemned to the bottom of this man made social hierarchy. However, segregation is only too evident in many parts of India. My most recent encounter with such social injustice was during my last political marketing campaign that took me to rural heartland of north India.

While campaigning in villages, I came across demographic distribution that fit a pattern. In every village the “untouchables” lived in a cluster around 200 meters away from the rest of the population. Though disturbing, this did not come as a shock to me. I was aware of the fact that we Indians were far from ridding ourselves completely of the ancient evil. However, what I observed next was disturbing. In every village the “untouchable” cluster would be towards the south while others would be in the northern part of the village. This layout was the same in all of the over 150 villages I visited. No exceptions. This pattern had to have a reasoning behind it. Hence, I inquired.

A local “wise” old man told me that since the wind blew from the northern direction, having the “untouchables” live in that part of the village would mean that the wind would be  “unclean” when it reached the other parts of the village. Winds that touched the “untouchables” would be dirty and upper caste people could not risk becoming “corrupt” by coming in contact with the same wind.

In his latest book “An Uncertain Glory: India and its Contradictions” Nobel laureate and economist Amartya Sen reasons how India, in pursuit of economic growth has neglected expansion of human capabilities and freedom. The neglect of physical and social infrastructure (health, education etc.) has meant that while we have achieved economic growth, real development has not kept pace with it. He couldn’t be more right.

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Our new ride

Posted by Raunak Mahajan on July 28, 2013


We have finally bought a piece of history. Yes, when Ratan Tata launched the $2000 car, he changed the game forever. Tata Nano will always find a special mention in the annals of automotive innovations. Since 2009, I have wanted to own one, a wish that came true last week. I am happy 🙂 and so is Appu!

Tata Nano45 miles to a gallon, 650 cc engine that  revs up a maximum speed of 65 mph and you have a car great for city driving in India.  It doesn’t cost $2000 anymore, yet the price tag of $4000 for a fully loaded version is still worth every drop of gas saved.

It does take sometime getting used to. Sitting in one feels like being inside a “pimped” egg shell. There is enough room for 4 decently sized human beings. You do have to compromise with a mere 80 L boot space.  But then again, at this price and mileage, it doesn’t hurt.

So, if any one of you wants a ride in this toy, do come over. We’d be glad to share our piece of joy 🙂

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Divorced from the Soil

Posted by Raunak Mahajan on January 8, 2013


Whatever disconnects itself from the land becomes rigid and hard. High culture begins in the preurban countryside and culminates with a finale of materialism in the world cities. Cosmopolitanism is the essence of rootlessness, because it is not tied to the land.

Oswald Spengler

My father was born in Peshawar, Pakistan. When India was partitioned, he and his family moved to New Delhi. My mother’s hometown is Srinagar, Kashmir. Ethnic cleansing by muslim militants forced her entire family out of Kashmir in the late 1980s. My father’s career in the Army meant that I kept changing cities every three years of my childhood. My work has taken me to several places and today I find myself in Haridwar, a new city, surrounded by new people. Been there before!

So when I’m asked where I belong to, I have no answer. I have no native or ancestral place. Unlike most Indians, I have no unique mother tongue. Is it my yearning to be tied to land that drives my passion for traveling? Am I in search of the Eden that I wish to tie myself to? Or have I developed a fear of tying myself to soil that makes me move whenever I find myself in a comfort zone?

I have often wondered how important the feeling of belonging is. I am still to find an answer. Until then, I remain divorced from the soil.

Posted in Philosophy, Travel | Tagged: , , | 9 Comments »

A Glimpse of Diwali

Posted by Raunak Mahajan on November 14, 2012

Yesterday was my favorite festival, Diwali. A festival that sees a mass migration across India. It is a time when one returns home to be with relatives. Diwali has shaped one of the most important decisions in my life, the decision to return to India. I loved being abroad. Enjoyed Finland a lot and had a ball in New York. But the fact of being away from my loved ones hit me the most on Diwali. I remember the first Diwali outside India. Everything was eerily silent and somewhere deep in my subconscious mind I decided that I would return to India. So every Diwali now, I look up at the heavens and thank God for letting me be with my family and my loved ones. I left opportunities on Wall Street in exchange for the millions I made in the form of moments I spend with my family. Not every person is as lucky, some out of choice and others out of circumstances.

Here are a few images from last evening. Gone are the days when I used to burst loud and dangerous firecrackers. Nowadays, its more subdued. But the magic still remains. Happy Diwali everyone 🙂

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Indian Cultural Diary: Karva Chauth

Posted by Raunak Mahajan on November 2, 2012

Today, millions of women across North India are observing a day long (sunrise to moonrise) for long life of their husbands. My wife has remained without food and water for ove 14 hours and it will be another hour or so before we see the moon. She has become fidgety and is giving me the “I can’t believe I’m doing this for you” look 🙂  But she’s taking it well and I’m glad to see her sense of humor coming to the forefront in this time of distress!

This age old tradition has never failed to impress me. The day is filled with beautiful rituals which are conducted by women dressed in some of the most gorgeous Indian outfits and adorned with sparkling jewels and radiating henna designs on their hands. The communal prayers are a sight to behold and nothing is more exciting than the manner in which women break their fast at moonrise. The wife performs her prayers while looking at the moon. She then looks at the moon through a sieve and then turns and looks at her husband through the same sieve. The process is better described here,

The fera ceremony concluded, the women await the rising of the moon. Once the moon is visible, depending on the region and community, it is customary for a fasting woman, with her husband nearby, to view its reflection in a vessel filled with water, through a sieve, or through the cloth of a dupatta. Water is offered (arka) to the moon (som or chandra, the lunar deity) to secure its blessings. She then turns to her husband and views his face indirectly in the same manner. In some regions, the woman says a brief prayer asking for her husband’s life. It is believed that at this stage, spiritually strengthened by her fast, the fasting woman can successfully confront and defeat death (personified by Yama).

Hats off to all wives who go through such a tough ritual for their husbands. I wish there was a similar way for us husbands to show our affection. Too bad the scriptures didn’t address this 🙂

You can read more about this wonderful festival and its mythological origins here.

Posted in Philosophy, Travel | Tagged: , , , , | 20 Comments »

Will the real Indian please stand up!

Posted by Raunak Mahajan on October 21, 2012

No! There is no one real Indian. We put the “D” in Diverse.  In fact, we put the I,V,E,R,S and E as well. But its not easy being us. Every time we travel abroad, we come across stereotypes that have absolutely nothing to do with us. The first time I did, I was left wondering how in the world did they get that impression of us. And then it hit me that there are million types of us. I am an Indian, but only one type. The general characteristics which differentiate the types are region, language, looks and food. In addition to being an Indian, I belong to a particular region, I speak a particular language, I look a particular way and my food habits too categorize me into a certain type. So far so good.

But things get very irritating when a set of Indians belonging to a particular combination of the above characteristics give rise to stereotypes that are extremely embarrassing for the rest of us. For example, I do not put coconut oil in my hair nor do I shake my head when I mean to nod. Yet, I am an Indian. I do not have a heavy accent nor do I walk holding my friend’s hand. Yet, I am in Indian. I am not an IT Programmer nor a help desk executive. Yet, I am an Indian. I can be a Punjabi and not have to wear a turban. I can be a Kashmiri and yet be a Hindu.

Every wave of immigration carried with it a different type of Indian to the world. And we still have many more headed to a neighborhood near you 🙂


Posted in Philosophy, Travel | Tagged: , , , , , , | 13 Comments »

Oh no…not again!

Posted by Raunak Mahajan on October 20, 2012

17:00 The train came to a halt. I picked up my bags and rushed to my compartment. Before boarding, I read the reservation chart and breathe a sigh of relief when I see my name on that list. I knew my ticket was confirmed but my mind has been tuned into being stressed till I see the proof inked on that dreaded chart.  Next, I glance at the passenger names around my seat. I am going to be spending the next 28 hours of my life with them, and I like to be prepared for what is coming. The only column that interests me is the Age/Sex column. 82/M, 52/F, 55/M, 57/M, 46/F ; oh no…not again! None of my co-passengers belong to my age group. Why does this always happen to me! I look at my Kindle and can’t help think “Just the two of us.”

17:30: Train starts moving. I bid an emotional goodbye to my favorite city, not knowing when I will return.

18:00: I assume a quiet posture in my seat, eyes glued to my kindle, ears catching every sound wave from the surroundings. Three of my co-passengers are related. 82 year old father (I will refer to him as grandfather) of the 52 year old aunty who is married to the 55 year old uncle. In India, any lady more than 20 years your age is referred to as “aunty” and any man “uncle”.

18:15: Aunty starts slicing apples and passes them on to uncle and Grandfather. And then what I dread, she offers them to me. I courteously refuse but in India you know its not going to work. I soon had four slices of apple in my hand and one in my mouth. Honestly, these were the most delicious apples I had had in a long time. I knew what this meant, I was now obliged to spend the next 26 hours chit chatting with this family. I looked at my Kindle, “Goodbye, mon ami!”

19:00: Grandfather turns out to be the most interesting man. He was a retired Railways official and his postings across the country endowed him with great wisdom that comes with traveling and age. Fortunately, he loved talking and sharing this worldly wisdom. I was all ears.

20:00: The family unpacks its home made dinner and not surprisingly, I am offered their food. By now I am only too glad to accept the invitation. Fried potatoes in a red curry accompanied by Indian bread…heaven!

21:00: By now we have discussed the state of our nation more than the Cabinet ever has. The latest scandal involving the son-in-law of the country has been analyzed from every possible angle. Quality of railways food has been blasted in every sense possible. The danger Walmart poses to our entrepreneurs has been debated thoroughly. Best ways of investing savings have been pondered upon and almost all religious stereotypes existing in our country mentioned at least once.

22:00: We all wish each other a pleasant sleep and retire to our berths. I pick up my kindle and start reading “Business As Usual” by John Childress.

The next day is a repeat of exchange of gossips, food and jokes. In no time, I reach my destination and bid a grateful farewell to grandfather, uncle and aunty. Grateful for filling 28 hours of my life with such enriching information, wisdom and experience. Grateful for sharing their travels and teaching me a great lesson, “first impressions can be very deceiving indeed.” The next time I look at the reservation chart, I’ll look for an 82/M listing.

P.S: Highly recommend “Business As Usual” by John Childress. 5 stars!

Super  Pants lived up to their expectations yet again 🙂

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My Super Pants!

Posted by Raunak Mahajan on October 8, 2012

I write this post from inside a train in India. So far, I have exchanged my berth with a co-passenger, so that a family, divided by the cruelty of the reservation system can travel together. All my internal organs have undergone three hours of motion sickness test, thanks to the old and faulty suspension system of this wagon. I have not spoken a single word for the last couple of hours; my berth lies at the very end of the compartment and is quite an isolated spot. I have another 24 hours before I reach my destination and I know they are not going to be the most comfortable.

Earlier today, I experienced a moment of delight that I’d like to share here. While I was getting dressed for the journey, I put on my cargo pants and felt a sudden transformation. The day until then had been pretty dull and I was feeling in no mood to undertake this long trip. But suddenly, in a split moment, all that changed. When I had donned those pants, I was ready to go, all charged up to head out on a long trek. I felt this surge of energy and a complete change in my frame of mind. Bewildered, I looked at myself in the mirror. I gazed at my pants and it hit me, they possessed magical powers.

These were the same cargo pants that I had worn on several arduous travels of mine, the 18 day trek across North East India, the 15 day mentally punishing trip to Mt. Kailash in Tibet, the month long grilling political campaign in the badlands of rural India. Since my body had overcome a lot of external stress while dressed in these cargoes, an unexplainable bonding has come into existence between the two. A touch of the pants on my skin, and my body gets triggered into action. Physiological changes kick in, hormonal flows get altered and travel instincts get activated. In short, a pretty cool conditional reflex has developed.

I now call these cargoes my Super Pants! Does your wardrobe have a Super Dress?

P.S: I’ve just been requested to change my berth again so that an old lady can occupy my lower berth and I climb on to the upper berth allotted to her. This happens every time I take a train 🙂




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More refreshing than the Tea

Posted by Raunak Mahajan on October 7, 2012

Darjeeling Tea is renowned world over. But there is one thing more rejuvenating than the flavor of the tea itself, the experience of standing in one of the Tea estates, feeling the cool tea scented breeze and watching artists work on their masterpieces.

Plucking tea leaves is a skill, one that is mastered through years of practice. And the movements of the plucker combined with her inner calmness, compose a surreal art form. And I was fortunate enough to witness one such display of beauty.

Parting Thought: The Tea plucker earns a daily wage of US$ 1.5 for 8 hours of labor.




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Hampi: Of a Great Empire and a Foolish King who really pissed off his enemies…

Posted by Raunak Mahajan on September 25, 2012

…and pissed them off so much that three kingdoms, that were mortal enemies, joined hands to raze the Vijayanagar Empire to ground.

Hampi, blessed with an out of this world and mesmerizing landscape, is surrounded by the ruins of the Vijayanagar Empire. The Empire in the Deccan Plateau spanned over three centuries (14th century AD to 17th century AD) and was ruled by four dynasties. At its peak, the empire was the seat of excellence in administration, governance, commerce,technology, literature and culture. This zenith was reached under the reign of King Krishna Deva Raya who ruled in the first half of the sixteenth century. Excavations around Hampi speak of the power and wealth of the empire. But peaceful existence could never be taken for granted. The first two centuries of the empire saw the Kings adopt an aggressive strategy to keep its enemies at bay. Military excursions against neighbors were frequent, and this ensured an efficient army of hardened warriors.

Towards the middle of the 16th century, the Empire found itself surrounded by three hostile dynasties. The Muslim Sultanates of Ahmednagar (Nizam Shahi), Golconda (Qutb Shahi) and Bijapur ( Adil Shahi) bordered Vijayanagar and were a constant threat. Surrounded by Muslim enemies, the strategy for survival was altered, “Divide and Live” became the new mantra.  In 1542, Aliya Rama Raya ascended to the throne of Vijayanagar. During his rule, the Muslim Sultanates were constantly involved in fighting each other and requested Rama Raya on more than one occasion to act as a mediator. Rama Raya exploited this role to not only aggravate misunderstandings between the Sultanates, but also to expand his own territory. Rama Raya constantly changed sides  between the Sultanates. He was foolishly flirting with danger. And he paid for it.

In 1565 the unthinkable happened. The Muslim Sultanates that were mortal enemies, awakened to the connivance of Rama Raya and joined hands to bring down the Vijayanagar Empire. The Battle of Talikota resulted in a rout of Vijayanagar.

What followed was a victorious army along with dwellers falling upon the great city. With axes, crowbars, fire and sword the victorious armies went about the task of bringing to rubble the city of Vijayanagara which never recovered from the onslaught.”

According to another source,

“After three days, Muslim troops entered the city. There was no one to stop them. They looted, plundered and destroyed the city. Men, women and children were killed without any mercy. Shops, temples and houses were burnt and the sacred Hindu idols were destroyed. This destructive episode continued for six months relentlessly. The havoc was complete. The scenes showed the magnitude of hatred Muslims had for Hindus.”

Alas, one of the greatest Hindu Empires of India was thus reduced to rubble. Hampi, a UN World Heritage site is a must visit for anyone traveling to India. The beauty of its landscape is stunning, and the ruins echo the sounds of a once supreme Empire.




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Trespassers Will Be Prosecuted…Really?That Bad?

Posted by Raunak Mahajan on September 19, 2012

Here’s a sign board I came across while enjoying Kodaikanal, a beautiful hill station in South India. I am used to seeing notices that say “Beware of Dogs” outside house gates. But this was too extreme for me. And a tad funny too 🙂 Wonder what bad experiences the landlords went through to warrant such a graphic display of a dog attack.

All that blood gushing out of the leg! I ain’t going anywhere near that property 😯

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Travel Diary: Siat Khnam: This is how we gamble in Meghalaya

Posted by Raunak Mahajan on September 16, 2012

Welcome to the beautiful land that is North East India. In the midst of the seven states lies Meghalaya, a natural wonder that boasts of some of the most beautiful sights and people. And speaking of people, there is one sport that they quite seem to enjoy: Siat Khnam. Every evening, a crowd of a few hundred gather in the middle of Shillong, the state’s capital, and surround a ring of archers ready to let fly hundreds of arrows into a single target. The thrill lies in the fact that betting in this sport is legal. Gambling enthusiasts bet on the number of arrows that will hit the target during a defined time period that the archers are at it.

eager archers preparing to let the arrows fly

I was fortunate enough to witness this spectacle. Read the rest of this entry »

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One Of My Favorite Snaps: Finland in Autumn

Posted by Raunak Mahajan on September 9, 2012

Location: Wilderness of North Finland

Season: Autumn

There is something so inspiring about this image.

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This Is What True Joy And Happiness Look Like

Posted by Raunak Mahajan on September 3, 2012

I spent last one month assisting my wife at Udavi Gentillesse School in south India. Below are few of the images I captured of the students. These images exhibit the pure joy and happiness we adults so desperately seek. No more words from me. For a change I’ll let the images speak for themselves.

Enjoy and rediscover Bliss!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

P.S: Compressing the images has compromised their quality.

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Quote Road: 10 Quips that Ease the Pain

Posted by Raunak Mahajan on August 26, 2012

When I travel, I love doing so by public road transport. Buses, shared cabs, over packed three-wheelers and barely existent roads extend friendship requests to my arse. The latter responds in kind with a quick acceptance, knowing very well that its health status is going to end up becoming complicated very soon.

Traveling on Indian roads is an extreme adventure. When the chicken crossed the road, it wasn’t in India for sure. Yet, it is a feast for the eyes. View from the passenger seat of a bus lets you make the most of a fleeting moment. It allows you to closely experience the hustle bustle of the places you pass on your way to your destination. And sometimes, you come across one-liners on road signs or car windows that remind you: You made the right choice!

Here are the Top Ten quips I have come across on my recent back breaking affairs with the road:

10) Outside a Paramilitary Training Camp: The more we sweat in peace,the less we bleed in war

On a Car Window:

9) Behind Every Fortune is a Crime!!!

8) Poverty is often a by-product of Wealth

Road signs:

7) Live your today, drive for your tomorrow

6) Safety on road is safe tea at home

5) Reach Home in Peace…not in Pieces

4) This is a Highway; not a Runway

3) Home is where you hang your Hat

2) Earth is borrowed from our children, not inherited from our ancestors

And my favorite,

1) Love thy neighbor, but not while driving 🙂




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Bringing Walls to Life: Community Project in a Village

Posted by Raunak Mahajan on August 19, 2012

Earlier this year, my wife Appu volunteered to add color and life to the walls of a Village Community Center. The villages are located on the west coast of India and have some of the most pristine beaches in this country. What began as an individual effort soon translated into a great community project with children and youngsters of the village joining her in this noble endeavor. The images below tell the story of art driving social upliftment.

Kundapur in Karnataka, India is a beautiful destination and I strongly recommend it for those who love the sea. Turtle Bay Beach Resort is the place to stay at and is run by a wonderful host, Abraham Chacko. Here is the link to the resort.




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Travel Diary: Slow Down People!!!

Posted by Raunak Mahajan on August 17, 2012

Ever wondered why as soon as your plane lands,the very moment the front wheels touchdown, a continuous sound of unfastening seat belts fills the aircraft? No matter how many times or in how many languages the air stewardess pleads, there will always be a few smart alecs that free themselves from the shackles long before the flight has come to rest.

And if this was not enough, you will always have that middle aged person/s make a call to his or her eager relatives while the taxing is still on!!! “Yeah, I have just landed.The plane is taxing.” Will somebody please tell them that we could die because of their stupidity!!!

Thats not all.Now that the aircraft has come to a standstill and the passengers on the window seats have shut their cameras (people are always obsessed with video recording a landing!!!), a sudden storm erupts around you.Everyone dashes out of his/her seat to be the first to remove their baggages from the cabin (relax,no one is going to steal it). And then, you realize that since the exit door is going to take some time to open, a long queue of senseless travelers standing in the most awkward positions forms.

God save you if you are on the aisle seat and are calm enough to not mind being seated till the doors open. The glaring, questioning eyes of the middle and window seat passengers will send you to the death row. I have always been made to feel guilty about not being in a hurry. And people, the transfer shuttle is not going anywhere till every square inch of space has been occupied in it. And please, as soon as you board the bus, don’t just stand there, move to more open spaces within the bus so that more of us can get in. At this point it might help to remember that the person who boards the bus last is often the first to alight :)

Even after this race has been won, the time it takes for a traveler to leave the terminal is directly proportional to the time it takes for their luggage to show up on that God forsaken baggage claim belt; which needless to say is every traveler’s worst enemy.The most beautiful girl in the flight always gets her baggage first and leaves.All you are left with is an opportunity to admire every make of luggage manufactured in the world while wiping off the sweat arising out of fear of the airline misplacing your bags!

So next time you travel, relax. Take a minute to admire the complex operations that take place on the tarmac. Glance around to appreciate the newly built terminal.Say thank you to the bus driver who ferries you from the flight to the terminal…Smile :)

P.S: Not applicable to the lucky few amongst us, the business class travelers.

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Travel Diary: Erotic Sculptures of Khajuraho

Posted by Raunak Mahajan on August 12, 2012

Deep in the heart of India lie the beautiful temples of Khajuraho, known around the world for their depiction of erotic art in the form of sculptures. The temples were built over a period of 300 years circa 950 AD and fortunately faded into obscurity that saved them from the wrath of the Muslim conquerors of India. Several interpretations exist of their essence but the one I like to believe in is the call to shed all sensual desires before entering the temple to be one with the deity.

The small town of Khajuraho is very tourist friendly, with local guides speaking fluent English, Spanish and French. Its a great place to explore using a bicycle. Enjoy the images 🙂

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