Category Archives: Travel

Ode to a city that I love

I miss walking up and down the endless streets

I miss the train ride in

I miss the subway rumble underneath my feet

I miss 53rd and 6th

I miss hangin’ with my favourite tribute band

I miss the gigs at MSG

I miss the cab ride down to the Strand

I miss browsing used CDs

I miss the colourful faces of the crowded streets

I miss the calm of Central Park

I miss the neon glow of Radio City

I miss the blinding lights in the dark

I miss the Museum of Modern Art

I miss the view from the Brooklyn Pier

I miss staring at the big lit-up tree

With the wintry wind in my ears

I miss the Guinness pints at Connolly’s Pub

I miss the local pizzerias

I miss the early morning jazz at the station Penn

After missing the last train out

I miss, I miss, I miss, I miss,

Have you heard enough from me?

As if you wouldn’t have already guessed

It’s plain to see that I love NYC

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Hiking in the Drakensberg – Part II

Our tent

The next morning we woke up to another constant drizzle outside. The rain simply was not in any mood of stopping. As we made our way out of the tent to see how it looked like outside, we heard some shouting and commotion in the far distance. Immediately our guide also got out to see what was going on. Later he explained what we had seen. Apparently some of the locals regularly smuggle a weed called Dagga from neighbouring country Lesotho through the mountains into South Africa. And they often mistake hikers and tourists for cops. So, the commotion we had heard was them spotting our tents and then making a run for it. They don’t come and attack or anything, they just run as far away from onlookers as possible. So we had a nice chuckle about this. The guide also showed us smoke billowing out from some sections in the mountains where this weed was being smoked.

Dagga weed

Walking in the mountains is actually not as difficult as it appears to be when one stares at a mountain. All mountain slopes have wide enough paths that the locals have been using for years to cross. So we kept walking along the long and winding paths, up, down and around one mountain to the next. On the way we passed caves (where hikers usually take shelter and even stay the night), interesting rock formations, beautiful waterfalls, steep drops and lots of heavy mist floating up and down the valley, seemingly having a mind of its own. We were reminded of Tolkien’s misty mountains and many a Led Zeppelin song. The scenery was stunningly beautiful and the mist made it look even better, although we knew that the more the mist, the more the chance of the rain not stopping. But the rain did stop in the middle and we were actually somewhat hopeful of making it all the way to the summit.

With our guide

Finally when we were not all that far from Rockeries pass, the guide showed us how the mist was very heavy around the pass and that it may not be safe to cross if it suddenly decided to rain again. We were a bit disappointed of course but we thought it is better to be safe than over-ambitious on our very first trek. So we stopped right there for about half an hour or so and had some boiled eggs, an apple and some fruit juice. After taking plenty of photos in all possible directions, we started on the journey back to the base camp.

The rain started steadily increasing again and we could hear some thunder too from time to time. As we made our way back, there were a few places where either the mud was very slippery or there was hardly a wide enough path in front of us. So at certain times we had to grab hold of as much grass as possible on the mountainside in order to not slip. Our shoes did a great job though! Just before this hike we had bought good quality hiking shoes and this return journey provided plenty of proof why it is so important to get hiking shoes and not try to manage using running shoes.

As we reached the camp site, our main guide said to us that a big storm was coming and that soon the whole area would be covered in snow! Originally we had planned to camp for one more night but we had to modify that plan. Otherwise we would be stranded in the snow for god knows how long. Also, we had some winter clothing but it was not quite enough for a storm of this size. And so almost immediately we started on the journey back to Mnweni Centre. Both guides folded up the tents and we packed our bags. The plan was to back-track the whole route and maybe stop briefly at the river where we had had our breakfast the previous day.

When we reached the river, it was overflowing. The rain was heavier now and the water flow was much stronger than before. So, instead of crossing the river and taking the same route as before, we took an alternate route. This route proved to be one of the most adventurous things in the whole trip! It went on and on forever and walking in the freezing rain was becoming harder and harder by the minute. To make things worse, we suddenly came to a part of the mountain where there was no distinct path at all in front of us. We literally had to grab hold of as much grass as possible on the mountain side and slide down to the next faintly visible path below. It felt like we were going to slide down the mountain in a free-fall.

After what felt like an eternity, we finally got to some relatively level ground not that far away from the homesteads that we had passed on our way here. My legs were killing me at this point! Thankfully I did not have any sprain or fracture, though I did slip and fall a couple of times. But my knees, especially the right one for some reason, were aching continuously with every step I took. I think what had happened was, we got no rest whatsoever from the time we came back from the higher mountains to the base camp. As soon as we reached the camp, we had to start walking again immediately because of the approaching storm. So all this took its toll on my legs and I basically limped the whole way back to the Centre. My wife surprisingly seemed fine compared to the state I was in. But both of us were clearly visibly exhausted from the hike, the freezing temperature and the endless rain. Meanwhile, we saw our guides happily walking back with the same 20 something kilos on their back as if nothing had happened. I suppose that is what regular hiking in the mountains does to you!

As we walked back, we turned around to see that the mountains were now completely covered in mist. As we got further and further away and back on the road to the Centre, snow started falling over the mountainous horizon. What a sight it was! Every time we turned around to look, more snow had fallen on the slopes. They were getting whiter by the minute and it was getting easier to distinguish the mist from the snow. The place where we had camped overnight was now covered in white! We were thankful to the guide for having good judgment and saving us from the storm. But a part of me still wished that we had camped in the snow. Nonetheless, a brown and green landscape with snow-capped mountains in the horizon was the image lingering in our minds as we reached the Mnweni Centre.

So that’s the story. Sorry for writing such a long account but I wanted to describe our first hiking experience in detail. There are still things that I have left out but I could go on and on if I wanted to. The bottom line is that, despite the fact that we ran into unexpected and unfriendly weather which cut short our hike from 2-1/2 days to 1-1/2 days, we still enjoyed it very much. Even if we don’t head back to the Drakensberg for a while now, we want to start doing more day hikes in our own area. After all, it is a great way to stay healthy at a reasonable cost while also catching some lovely scenery along the way.

Hiking in the Drakensberg – Part I

We’d been wanting to hike in the Drakensberg mountains for quite some time, so we finally went and did it last weekend. This was our second time in the Berg. The first time though, was purely a tourist visit to Champagne Valley and Monk’s Cowl. My mom and sis were visiting at the time, so we did not want to attempt any hectic hikes. Ever since that first visit when we saw the stunning beauty of the area with our own eyes, we had been dying to come back for a proper hike. It finally happened in September 2012.

I took a Friday off from work and we set off on the road Thursday afternoon. It was roughly a 5 hour journey covering 450 km to the small town of Bergville. From there it was about 35 km to an area called Mnweni and this included 17 km of unpaved dirt road. After getting a bit lost (which seems like a normal occurrence now especially in the Drakensberg) we finally reached the Mnweni Centre where we met with our guide and porter. The plan was to stay the night there and then start on the hike the following morning. We had our dinner quickly, which consisted of sandwiches that my wife had packed for the evening and then went to bed in our rondavel (traditional African hut). Though there was no TV in the room and no plug points, it was good, basic, reasonably priced, self-catering accommodation.

The next morning we woke up early to get ready. A light drizzle had started outside. After having a quick breakfast of oats we started on the hike with our guide and porter. We had found the guide from the internet and he arranged the porter, a local from the area who also acted as a guide as well. Both my wife and I had backpacks weighing 5 kilos or so and these guys had huge backpacks weighing maybe 20 kilos each. They brought everything for us, food for the journey, cooking utensils, tents to sleep in, sleeping bags, air mattresses and so on. At around 8:30 am, we headed from the Centre on the dirt road towards the mountains.

This was my first time out on a proper hike. I had done a few runs and walks before but they were all on level ground. This was in the mountains. Makes a big difference! After walking about 5 km or so I was already tired from the weight of the backpack and the uphill road. Thankfully we stopped every now and then for 5 or 10 min and took photos and stuff. So it wasn’t too bad. The scenery got better and better as we reached closer to the foot of the mountains.

We passed several settlements and homesteads, all sporting the typically round huts, a rooster and some cattle. It was interesting to see how the locals lived in this area. One thing that was funny to see was that some of these homesteads, no matter how rural and impoverished they looked, had visible satellite dish connections. I guess that’s the scene in a country which is both developed and developing. Also, our guide explained that these people get utilities like water and electricity as well as other things like education and medicine all subsidized by the government.

After about 11 km or so of walking, we stopped for a quick brunch by the banks of the Ntonyelane river. The guide prepared some buns with cheese and tomato and gave us 2 hot mugs of coffee. That was a much needed break.

Then we headed on towards the area where we would camp for the night. The path was really interesting and the mountain scenery just kept getting better and better. Since it was in-between seasons, we saw plenty of brown and green. In a few areas in the mountains, the demarcation between dried brown grass and lush green grass was striking and this made it look beautiful from a distance.

Finally we reached a relatively flat area where our guide decided to put up the tents. It was a lovely spot with more scenic mountains ahead of us and a cliff to some distance to our right overlooking the same river that we had crossed earlier. Actually we were going to camp even further along the route but the ever increasing rain and the fact that we were inexperienced hikers made the guide decide to stop where we were, even though it was only around 2 pm now. For the rest of the afternoon and evening we spent our time in the tent, reading books, sipping on coffee or tea, having noodles and generally staring at the rain and wishing for it to stop.

Staying in a tent overnight was quite an experience! As the sun set, it got pitch dark outside with nothing but the sound of birds and the occasional growls of baboons high up in the mountains. Our guide assured us that these baboons do not come down the mountain towards humans, unless we specially attract them with fire or food. So we were not that scared or anything but it was still a bit unnerving sleeping on a grassy mountainside out in the wild. The one thing that we missed dearly was a starry night sky. The relentless rain had covered the sky up with clouds. That’s the thing with the weather in the Drakensberg. They say it can change in a matter of 5 min. Anyway, since we were in a well-protected tent, we did not get too wet or anything. Plus, we had raincoats. In the middle of the night if we had to pee, we had to go outside the tent in pitch dark, quickly finish the job and scurry back in. And of course, twisting and turning around on the thin air mattress did give us its share of back pain. But one can’t complain too much. That is what you get if you want to experience sleeping in the wild.

The Best and Worst things about living in South Africa – Part II

And now for the not-so-nice things about living here as an expat…

The Most Frustrating Things about SA:

The impenetrable job market: Foreigners have a tough time finding employment here through the direct application process. There is a dearth of skilled labour in several major fields and yet SA Immigration/Home Affairs makes it extremely difficult for people to find jobs. Employers know this and so do not want to take any chances in hiring somebody that does not already have a work permit. The person could be qualified to the high heavens but without a permit they hardly stand a chance. And without a job offer, one cannot get a work permit. So it is a frustrating catch-22 situation. It seems that one needs to have a contact or friend in a company in order to get through… meaning that the employer must be interested enough to wait through the tedious process of securing a work permit. I understand that the high unemployment figure here of 25% in combination with the Black Economic Empowerment reservation system is what is causing this disinterest towards hiring foreign labour. But I wonder… how does a country progress if it closes its mind to skilled labour, whether local or foreign? Just take a look at the US of A. The country has been brought to where it is now, thanks largely due to immigration. And I don’t get the whole argument of “previously disadvantaged hence automatically entitled”. This BEE policy is not that far removed from the caste-based reservation system in India. I know that some races and communities were discriminated against many years ago. But if we want to start again at square one, we must have merit-based equal rights for all, surely!

Political apathy: After Nelson Mandela was freed and Apartheid ended in the early 90’s, it was amazing how people of different races came together in order to move the country forward. One still wonders how SA did not slip into the total chaos of civil war. Now about 20 years after Apartheid, the ruling party African National Congress (or ANC) seems to have taken a lackadaisical approach to everything. They were persecuted by the white regime for many years, so now they want to enjoy all the riches and play a game of tit-for-tat while the country goes to hell. From President Zuma’s many personal jets to the ineffective corruption-riddled policing on the roads to a textbook supply fiasco that is part of a worsening education system, it is clear that these guys are more interested in getting rich than getting things right.

Essential services failures: Unfortunately due to a general electricity shortage and a growing water problem, there are a fair amount of power outages and water supply issues every now and then. Initially we were trying to move from one housing complex to another in an attempt to dodge these problems. But later on we found out that it is a general problem and can occur anywhere in Johannesburg. The thing is, these kinds of problems can occur anywhere in the world, even in the so-called developed countries. It is how fast the concerned authorities respond to the problem that makes the difference. It is often close to impossible to get through to the Johannesburg Water complaint phone line. And the main electricity provider Eskom had to do load shedding a few years back in order to combat the electricity shortage. They do try to educate the public through adverts, talking about how one must turn off all unnecessary lights in the home, turn off the geyser when not needed or use less water in the bathroom etc. So that’s a good thing.

Internet: South Africa has still not fully caught up on telecommunications. There are a handful of wireless internet providers and each of them offers limited, capped bandwidth at not-so-cheap prices. Uncapped internet is still very expensive for the average computer user. Of course, one can get uncapped ADSL through a home telephone line for a somewhat decent price. But the terrible state of telephone lines provided by Telkom makes this option more difficult to choose, especially in newer suburbs and neighbourhoods where there are simply no phone lines installed. And getting a new line installed would take several months if not years!

Bad drivers: I see an increasing number of bad drivers on the roads every day. Either they drive way too fast (160 kmph in an 80 zone) or they just do not know the rules of the road – that one must indicate before changing lanes (not just for turns) or that one should keep a safe following distance etc. The omnipresent minibus taxis cause the most accidents with their reckless driving and careless abandon for any kind of rule of the road. The lack of proper policing only makes this problem worse. Thankfully there are initiatives like Lead SA which continuously try to educate people on civic sense.

Crime: No matter how much crime has reduced since the Football World Cup, it is still there. Of course if one uses their common sense and takes adequate precautions, nothing untoward happens. But we still hear about things like burglaries, cable theft and gang rape, the latter being mostly in townships or poor neighbourhoods. But I have to say that I’m not all that surprised. With an apathetic government, high unemployment and pathetic policing, it is no wonder that there are people out there who would rather resort to crime than struggle from day to day. All that said, the South African crime problem is way overblown in foreign, especially western media! It is really not all that bad. If one exercises reasonable caution and avoids certain areas after dark, one is generally safe.

The Best and Worst things about living in South Africa – Part I

Got this idea from another blogger’s post on the most frustrating things about living in Germany. So I was wondering about what they would be for me. But I’ll start with the positive…

The Best Things about SA:

Natural Beauty: It is a beautiful country with vast stretches of open land, majestic mountains and never-ending blue skies filled with fluffy white clouds. The sky here is a sight of its own! I have not seen so many different colours and pretty cloud formations anywhere else. The gorgeous reddish orange sunsets are simply to die for! The thunder and lightning also present quite the spectacle with huge menacing bolts from the sky or as we saw in the Drakensberg, continuous flickering over a mountainous horizon making it look like God’s light bulbs are going out. Road trips are a must here for any traveller, no matter how short or long the duration of stay.

Road Infrastructure: Speaking of roads, they are some of the best in the world. Sure, you would find potholes on narrow country roads but the highways and most of the roads in major cities like Pretoria, Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town are world class. They have been like that for many years, although recently many of the major highways were redone for the World Cup in 2010. Also, since most of the country is mountainous there are a lot of ups and downs in the landscape. This gives a lovely look to the highways in combination with the beautiful blue skies.

Climate: The climate of SA really is one of the best in the world. The summers are hot but never get too unbearable. If you are around Pretoria, Johannesburg or Cape Town in summer it is lovely and not too humid. Durban can get quite humid in summer but it is absolutely beautiful and warm in winter. As for winters in Pretoria and Joburg, they get very cold only for a short duration in June/July. Cape Town gets rain in winter. But overall, it is a very mild and moderate climate. It hardly ever snows here which can be a bummer depending on how you look at it, sitting comfy at home staring out the window or struggling with your work commute. But the lack of snow is a somewhat small sacrifice for such polite and relatively unchanging weather throughout the year.

Cost of Living: The cost of living is generally cheap. One can find a decent looking 2 bedroom apartment here for about R5000 which comes to about 15% of the average salary for a skilled professional. So, one gets to save on a monthly basis after meeting all obligations. That is comforting when compared to many other countries where the house rent itself eats away at a chunk of the monthly salary. And since South Africa is sort of a combination of a developing as well as a developed country in many ways, good quality merchandise is generally available at moderate prices. My mum-in-law said it herself when she was here a couple of months back. She was able to purchase 2 heavy woollen coats, 1 light leather jacket, 2 pairs of leather gloves and a leather handbag, all for about R3000. That is not a bad deal considering the top notch quality of the material.

Ease of Exploration: The country is not very difficult to explore due to its manageable size. And there is a wide variety of landscapes from mountains to deserts and grasslands to beaches, all within a somewhat small to medium sized country. There is only one standard time zone here, so there are no issues of jetlag and other such inconveniences. Also, the domestic flights are quite efficient and many in number. There are low cost options available too such as Kulula, Mango and 1Time, in addition to the national carrier SAA.

Work-Life Balance: Generally I have seen from my own experience and from talking to people that there is a good work-life balance here. The number of ‘paid vacation’ days usually provided annually by companies is more than the average number in the US. On a weekly basis, people generally work much more during the week than during weekends. The problem with this of course is that it applies to the retail sector as well. So, shops generally close between 2 to 4 pm during weekends. But as long as we plan our shopping early, it does not matter. It is certainly a good thing that there is emphasis on weekend family time. The national pastime here is barbecuing or as it is called in local lingo, ‘braai’. When the sun is out, nothing pleases a South African more than hanging out on the lawn with friends and family around a smoking braai grill.

To be continued in Part II … Thanks for reading.

An unforgettable holiday in Cape Town

It has been a week since my in-laws returned to India after their 3 week stay in SA. We wanted to cover as much as possible during their stay, so I did not want to miss the number one highlight – Cape Town.

I originally planned for a trip over Easter weekend which is always a big one here. But when I had a look at the flight fares, I got the shock of my life! They were about 3 times more expensive than off-peak rates. Add to that, it was going to be a very busy time at work due to the nature of our business. Hence I decided to push the trip by a week. Off-peak season (anytime but Christmas and Easter) is really the best time to go on holiday over here.

We left Joburg on a Thursday afternoon. The brightly coloured low cost airline, Mango landed rather bumpily at Cape Town International Airport from where we had to take a rental car to our B&B. It was a lovely little bed & breakfast run by a French guy and his Indian wife right near the centre of town in the Bo-Kaap district (formerly known as the Malay Quarter). They were really friendly and helpful throughout our stay. They even made a special potato and beans curry for our Indian parents and it turned out to be a hit with the other guests as well. So, the breakfast was fabulous and we got a little peek of what was to come, from their open terrace – Table Mountain in all its glory sitting neatly right next to the town.

While we planned out our 4 days of sightseeing, our hosts advised us that we could take the open-top hop-on/hop-off bus tour for the first 2 days and then perhaps explore the peninsula on our own for the remaining 2 days. It made sense to us and that is what we did. After finishing breakfast, I went online and got the City Sightseeing bus tickets for 2 days. Not only was there a discount for purchasing tickets online, the 2 day tour let us interchange between the red bus which tours only the inner city and the blue bus which tours parts of the peninsula. So without wasting any time, we headed to the nearest bus stop. This was great. We could actually walk the streets here, as opposed to Joburg inner city where I wouldn’t even go by car unless I absolutely have to. First stop on the bus was Table Mountain.

We lined up for the cable way going up the mountain and paid the entrance fees, which to me seemed on the high side.  Anyway I said to myself that this was Cape Town after all and that it was worth it. As we went up we got stunning views, which kept getting better and better the higher we were. I thought that the rotating platform in the round cable car was a nice touch. It gave everyone 360 degree views of Lion’s head, the entire town and the Atlantic Ocean.

On top of the mountain was a wonderfully built-up stone park with lots of hiking trails, wooden bridges and lookout points, a souvenir shop (of course!) and a restaurant. When the sun is out and the sky is clear except for a few fluffy white clouds, this place looks like a dream! One could keep gazing at the subtly varying shades of blue of the ocean as it fades into the sky. After walking around as much as we could and taking tons of photos, we headed back down to get back on the bus.

Next stop was Camps Bay where we had lunch at The Raj restaurant. We had spent a lot of time at Table Mountain and so had worked up a good appetite. The food was delicious but a little pricey, which is understandable. Camps Bay beach had a posh look about it with a variety of fine dining options. I just wish we could have spent more time at the beach walking along the never-ending coastline. But with a 4 day trip, that was not possible. Anyway, then we headed over to Burg street near the centre of town. There was a market place there with several shops and restaurants. The whole place looked very interesting, once again… a far cry from shady downtown Johannesburg! Ended the day at Victoria & Alfred (V&A) Waterfront, which doesn’t offer all that much for sightseeing per se. But it does have a nice harbour with cool looking boats, shops, restaurants and a giant wheel.

The next day we decided to take advantage of the blue bus which tours the peninsula. We had heard about Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens being a must-see and also wanted to do a tour of a vineyard. So, first we headed to Kirstenbosch and then to Groot Constantia wine estate. The botanical garden was quite nice but overall, both my wife and I felt that the Nelspruit one was more interesting with a huge waterfall inside the premises. This one had many cobblestone paths, artsy looking statues and interesting flora. All in all we enjoyed it. When we got to Groot Constantia, it had started raining quite heavily. So as soon as we got off the bus, we hurried into a restaurant and had a lovely Italian lunch along with some home-grown white wine. After the rain subsided, we went on the wine-making tour. They walked us through the whole process, showing us the machines where the grapes are processed, the cellars where the fermentation takes place and finally the wooden barrels where the wine is stored and aged. We even got to do a little wine tasting at the end of the tour. So that was fun.

The following day our bus ticket had expired. It was time to use our rental car. We decided to cover Chapman’s Peak, Cape Point/Cape of Good Hope and Boulders ‘penguin’ beach. When we got to Chapman’s Peak, as luck would have it, it started raining heavily. Though the place did look misty and nice with rainy weather, I was somewhat disappointed. I had seen this place before in bright summer weather and this just wasn’t the same. Anyway, we did not stop and simply headed on to Cape Point. As we drove further down the peninsula, the rain stopped and the sky cleared. The sun came out again. I said a little prayer.

Cape Point, with its winding walking path up to the historic lighthouse and views of nothing but ocean beyond, was absolutely magnificent! It is probably my favourite place in the whole peninsula with Table Mountain giving it a serious run for its money.

Then, there is Cape of Good Hope which if I remember my history right, was discovered by Bartolomeu Dias and navigated around by Vasco Da Gama in the 15th century. There is a sign there which says that it is the most south western point of Africa, so of course we had to pose for photos there. There was also a busload of tourists there who seemed to be hogging the sign and not giving anybody else a chance, which was quite pathetic.

Thrilled about the good weather we had at Cape Point, we started towards Boulders beach to see some penguins. The weather pattern really is unique in this part of the country. It can change in a second and be unpredictable as heck but when it is good it is really good! When we got to Boulders beach I was surprised to see an entrance fee being charged. I mean, who charges an entrance fee to an open beach?? I’m sure they just decided to capitalize on the fact that there were penguins here. Anyway, the place looks pretty enough and there is a long enclosure near the beach with a boardwalk and plenty of penguins. After walking about a bit, staring at the bored-looking penguins and taking some photos, we headed back towards Cape Town through Simon’s Town.

Then it suddenly struck me that we had not really seen Chapman’s Peak due to the bad weather there. The weather was gorgeous right now and there were still a couple of hours before sunset. So I decided to take the long way back through Chapman’s Peak. We made it well on time and were able to catch the gorgeous evening sun slowly sinking into the ocean. It was like a perfect book-ending to an amazing 3 days of sightseeing.

The next day, we only had enough time to see one nearby place before catching out flight. So we had breakfast, checked out of our rooms, thanked the hosts profusely for their warm hospitality and headed for Bloubergstrand or Blouberg Beach. This was located in the northern suburbs in the Table View area and provided an amazing view of the beach with a backdrop of the entire Table Mountain in the horizon. Spent roughly an hour there before leaving for the airport.

Overall, it had been a thoroughly enjoyable trip but considering that it was only 3 and a half days really, we managed to see almost all the must-see attractions.

Hectic Vacation

Market Crowd

Just got back from a month-long vacation in India but it did not feel much like a vacation at all. The main reason for that being my sister’s wedding and all the preparations it involved. I don’t think I have run around this much for any event in our family like I did for her wedding! Not that I am complaining… it was my own sis’s big day after all! But let me start from the beginning, so you get the full picture on why this trip was so nuts.

I first arrived in Delhi a week after my wife did and spent about 5 days at her parents’ new place. By the time that I arrived, she had already gone on a mini trip to Bhopal to attend a close friend’s wedding. Anyway, I was glad to be back in Delhi for the second time in a span of 2 years. I enjoyed travelling by Delhi Metro just like I did last year. I also enjoyed the fast food (chaat) at a well-known place in Karol Bagh just like I did last year. Only difference was, this time I fell violently sick with unstoppable diarrhoea. Call it a case of Delhi Belly I guess. So that put a little damper on our already short Delhi stay. Then we had to leave for Chennai just as my stomach was beginning to act normal again. Immediately the following day, we started on a trip with family down south to a village near Tirunelveli, Tamilnadu where our family’s roots reside. This south trip itself was quite chill generally despite the continuous push from elders in the family to try to cover a gazillion temples and religious places in a span of 3 days.

After we got back to Chennai, my stomach went for a toss yet again. Part 2 of non-stop LMs! The bloody bug or whatever had not really left the first time I suppose. From there onwards it was just a continuous rush towards the family wedding. There were 2 functions/prayer ceremonies at home with lots of visiting relatives and my system once again slowly recovered with help from plenty of antibiotics and other meds. The wedding itself went fine but I had completely worn myself out by the end of it. The very next day after the wedding, I had to drop my wife off at the airport. She had to go to Mumbai to give an exam. As I returned home, I think my body had had enough and I felt extreme tiredness all of a sudden. Spent pretty much the whole day sleeping and found out later in the afternoon that I had contracted viral fever. On top of all that, in a few days we had to attend yet another wedding of a close family member. I barely recovered from the fever and somehow attended just about half of this other family wedding. By this time, both wife and I were thoroughly exhausted and wondering how a vacation had become so overwhelming.

Eventually I had to postpone our flights to SA by about 3 days because I really did not want to be weak and sickly while carrying luggage to the airport and sitting on an inter-continental flight for 8 hours. Funnily enough, those last 3 days were the most relaxing of the whole trip! My body thankfully recovered fast enough from the fever and we actually managed to catch a movie with the family and relax a bit towards the end. So although the whole trip now seems like a blur, it was totally worth it. Now that I’m back in my regular routine, daily grind… whatever you want to call it, I can finally relax.

Durban – Just perfect during off-peak season!

Durban North Beach at night

About a week before Easter, I had to go on a business trip to Durban. It just so happened that the day I was going to leave there was a problem at home that my wife couldn’t deal with by herself. So with permission from my boss I decided to take her with me. And it turned out to be a great trip combining business and leisure.

We were lucky to be doing this trip just a week before the mad rush of Easter holidays which is basically the other peak season after New Year’s Eve. The weather was beautiful and pretty much perfect to go to the many beaches there, except on the last day when it rained. The thing is, I have seen Durban during the ‘peakest’ of peak seasons and it ain’t pretty! The rush of people and the long queues especially at top tourist attractions like uShaka Marine World gets a little too hectic to deal with. My mom and sis were visiting South Africa this past New Year’s and we tried to cover as much as possible during their short 2-week foreign trip. We made it to Kruger Park, the Drakensberg mountains and Durban, all within that one week between Christmas and New Year’s. The former two were nice and peaceful but Durban was nuts! Doesn’t mean that we didn’t enjoy it but I had seen the city during a much calmer, more beautiful time of the year in August. Somehow even the water in the oceans looked bluer and prettier during off-peak season, from what I can recall. I’m not imagining this… honest!

So anyway, this time it was just great! We missed the peak rush, I got my work done and we enjoyed the evenings and adjoining weekend as well. We visited this absolutely gorgeous park called Mitchell Park in the suburb of Morningside and my wife went crazy with her camera. We also went to the main area of North Beach, Umhlanga Rocks and Umdloti Beach. North Beach during evening time was so beautiful, calm and peaceful, I had no idea! The other two we visited the next morning before driving back to Joburg.

So if you ever plan to go see what Durban is all about, I say go during off-peak season. It’s a world of difference!