When opportunity swings by, will you be wearing the Right shoes?

ProactiveThe ‘Swing’ is a dance style set to jazz music that developed and became popular in the 1920s-1950s. It is characterised by fast movements and one has to be nimble on the feet to get the right rhythm. While learning the Swing, or any other Western dance style- the right kind of shoes are important as it sets your posture & movements right.

So what does a retro dance style have to do with achieveing career success?

I was told a long time ago that every job I do will be a combination of dull, mundane work and exciting and stimulating tasks. The challenge is to maintain a healthy balance between the two. It is not always easy to be excited about work all the day, but having a positive attitude helps; along with being proactive and taking on a sense of responsibility. My work may not be always be the most exciting, 5.00 PM coffee conversations might not be the most stimulating, but I try to make the best of the situation I am in.

In the workplace, there are many around who we get influenced by, through their thoughts, words, and deeds- in ways both positive and negative. What is important is to remember to focus on the positives. And when that becomes difficult, looking at the big picture gives me perspective- one that might be different from mine. It also gives me a sense of my contribution.

Whether it’s a big, corporate setup, or a small agency- everybody wants to work with a team which is made up of enthusiastic, excited people who are proactive.

So what does being proactive really mean? There are some who look at only the responsibilities they are tasked with, things they are ‘supposed’ to do, maybe what is mentioned in their job description; but no one who ever rose to the top of the ladder ever did only what they were supposed to. Taking additional responsibility, trying to do new things, or just doing things in a new way- that’s what being proactive is all about. And that’s also what gets you noticed.

When I do my work well, it imbues a sense of confidence in me which excites me to do even better. As the Bhagvad Gita says, “Do your duty without expecting anything in return. If you do your work well, recognition will automatically follow”. And it certainly has.

And just as in dance you need to wear the right shoes to dance well, so in life do we need the right attitude- being proactive and making the best of every situation by seizing the day. Carpe Diem.

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A Swinger of Birches

I’d like to get away from earth awhile, And then come back to it and begin again.
I’d like to go by climbing a birch tree, Climb black branches up a snow-white trunk.
One could do worse than be a swinger of birch trees.
Sailing

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Every once in a while, Robert Frost’s lines ring through my head and I want to get away from the world to spend some time by myself, alone with my thoughts.
A recent activity organized by my office afforded me the chance to do just that. Sailing in the waters of the Arabian Sea, in a small white yacht with only seagulls for company and the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel rising majestically in the distance.
As the boat drifted further away from the shore, you could almost picture life slowing down. The gentle breeze filling the sails of the boat, the water lapping against the sides of the boat, the peace and quiet- it was too good an experience and made waking up at 4.00 AM totally worth it!
Being novices, we were only allowed to steer the boat in whichever direction we wanted to go, though I wouldn’t have minded a crash course in managing the sails as well. Sailing can of course, be a leisurely as well as an extreme form of adventure. Extreme sailing also provides a good grounding in team work since it’s all about coordination and understanding the elements of nature.
Hailing from a small-town and having lived in a few cities where the pace of life was not-so-hectic, coming to Bombay was akin to someone jolting me awake. I like the pace of things to be measured (does that make me sound Victorian?), not necessarily slow, which is why at times I just want to leave it all, and as Frost says, come back to it and begin again.
In our rushed daily existence, we get so caught up in the grind that life tends towards the mundane, and it’s easy to forget to ‘stop and smell the roses’. Life is too beautiful to be hurried along. There are things to do, people to meet, places to travel to, experiences to be had- so much to look forward to; that we need to savor every moment to be able to distill the true essence of life.
In the end, we are all looking for a birch tree to climb…

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A change of direction

Life

‘Life isn’t about the number of breaths you take, but by the moments that take your breath away’.

Clichéd, but oh so true.  Life is made up of countless experiences and in the few years I have spent in the world I have been lucky to have my share of good, bad and downright ugly episodes. There is still so much I want to see and do and share. My bucket-list keeps expanding and getting modified with each passing day.

So I have decided on a slight change of direction. From now I want to share my thoughts on not just travel but on life in general.

My quest of being a citizen of the world continues. It is slowly dawning on me that that concept doesn’t apply solely to someone who has travelled to many places, but to a person who shares the same joys, hopes, sorrows, aspirations, etc. as any other person living on a different part of the globe. It is a concept which goes much deeper than simply walking the cobblestoned paths of Europe or through the jungles of Borneo.

I would like to immerse myself in a place and time. understand what life, with all its vagaries means to someone else also.

So as I continue on this quest, I hope you will continue to be my companion.

Thanks for reading!

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A Visit to God’s Own Country- Kerala and the coral isles of Lakshadweep

Kerala- where the forests and mountain ranges of Wayanad look enchanting in the morning mist and sunlight shines like liquid gold; the landscape is perfect as a postcard; and the tarmac is a ribbon of black silk winding through paddy fields of the freshest green fringed with trees of banana, cardamom and coconut.

Kerala is also home to the Nilgiris which have some of the highest mountain peaks south of the Himalayas. The foothills of the majestic Nilgiris are dotted with tea and coffee plantations, along with cardamom trees and creepers of fragrant black pepper.

A large part of northern Kerala is occupied by the famed Silent Valley National Park. Nestled in the Nilgiri mountain range, this National Park is a vast expanse of virgin forests, inhabited by an ancient tribe and some very interesting wildlife like the wild gaur, red fox and the Giant Malabar Squirrel. The best way to experience it is to forego modern comforts and stay deep within the jungle in the forest guesthouse. The guesthouse is barely a cottage with a few rooms and bare minimum necessities. Availability of accommodation is up to the whims and fancies of the Forest Dept., and as is often the case if you know someone who might know someone else, you will be lucky enough to get a room. In case you are not, there is another cottage located at the edge of the forest.  

The daytime silence is broken only by a distant stream or the rustle of branches as a Giant Malabar Squirrel hops from one tree to the next. As the sun sets behind the mountains, the valley is filled with a resounding silence-the one place I have seen so far where even the cicadas are silent.

After witnessing the mystic dance of Theyyam, the best of eco-tourism at Vythiri and the temple town of Guruvayur, we journeyed to our last stop in Kerala- Cochin.

Some time on our hands allowed us to explore the ancient spice markets of Cochin. The city is known for many things, but since ancient times its significance has been primarily due to the spice trade. Cochin was an important port on the Silk Route, when traders from Europe and the Orient bought and sold spices, silks, jewels, glassware and other precious items.

After a week of experiencing the visual and sensory delights of Kerala, we waited to board the ship M.V Bharat Seema which would take us 400 Kms off the coast of Kerala into the Arabian Sea and to the coral paradise of Lakshadweep.

I strongly believe that it is the people who make a place and define its character. A kind word and a gentle smile can open any doors for you. This was true esp. in the countryside, where despite not knowing a word of the regional language, we experienced the best of hospitality, warmth and kindness when people welcomed us into their heart and hearth.   

While it may have been coined as a marketing or advertising gimmick, the natural beauty of Kerala and simplicity of the people has truly earned it the epithet of God’s Own Country.

As our ship set sail from Cochin harbor, we were keen to see what wonders the next evening had in store for us, as we would reach the Lakshadweep archipelago. A group of about 400 islands, of which only 10 are inhabited and tourists are allowed only on 3, I remember thinking to myself that this was surely going to be an extraordinary place.

And it sure was….

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Bhutan Travelogue: Part 2

Takhtsang

Takhtsang

One of my friends commented on the previous post that it starts like a travel diary but ends up asking some questions. The Qs. are more rhetorical than intended to get any actual answers. The fact is the trip to Bhutan raised some Qs. in my mind and I wanted to know if the same happened with some of you who have travelled abroad.

Continuing with the travelogue…

The evening of day 1 saw us strolling down the streets of Thimpu, absorbing its sights and sounds. Lord Buddha is seated on a mountain nearby- gazing serenely on his people below and keeping them safe from harm.

Legend has it that a mythical dragon roamed the skies and his roars caused thunder. Slept with all fingers and toes crossed and with fervent prayers that the Thunder Dragon be kind to us as the country was drenched in unseasonal rains the previous week. This would also put a dampener on our plans to visit Takhtsang (see pic above). Luckily our prayers were answered and the next day started with clear blue skies and not a hint of rain.

Nearly 3 hours later with an arduous climb through dense forests brought us to Takhtsang- built on the sheer edge of a cliff at a height of 10,000 feet. Wide-eyed and speechless, we could only marvel at this architectural wonder. The people responsible for building this were surely possessed with some divine powers to be able to build it- so high, and so remote, one wonders how they carried the tools, implements, building blocks, etc. up there, or later provisions for the monks who inhabited the monastery.

Day 3: Destination- Punakha. En-route we passed through Doch La (La translates to ‘pass’- a gap between 2 mountain ranges) with its 109 chortens (Buddhist memorial) built by the 4th king’s 1st wife for the king’s protection and to honor the soldiers who had laid down their lives in an earlier war. Quite heartwarming.

It is said that on a clear day, you can see 7-8 distinct mountain ranges from Doch la. Despite an overcast sky and mild drizzle, we could get a commanding view of the Himalayas, standing tall and steadfast to protect the kingdom against any threats.

The drive to Punakha was through some of the loveliest forests I have ever come across, covered with various alpine flora and pink and purple hued-rhododendrons, topped with a fragrant bouquet of pine that makes you wish time stood still…

Punakha is barely a small town but is important from a historical point of view since it is the site of the largest and oldest ‘dzong’- giant structures meant to serve as fortresses, administrative and religious centers. The Punakha dzong is also where the royal wedding of the current king and queen was held recently. The main attraction for us was the dzong of course, and indulging in some adventure sports of the aquatic variety: white-water rafting!!

Bright and early the next day and all geared up to tackle the rapids on the Mo chu (‘chu’ translates to river). Bhutan is famous more for the mountain treks than water sports. The Mo chu has intermediate level rapids (level 3 with level 5 being the toughest)and some of our group were getting queasy at the thought of it. However all fears were allayed by our guide- a pro who had rafted in some of the toughest rapids in Asia. An exhilarating, adrenalin pumping ride topped by a swim in the ice-cold water!!

This had to be what life was about!

Some more sightseeing later, Thimpu was where we were headed for what Indians probably do best- bargain hunting; and some souvenir shopping.

From the highest point in Thimpu, the city looks spectacular at night- little twinkling lights in the valley, the Thimpu dzong (seat of the Parliament) artfully lit up in red and gold, the Buddha on the mountain…

Unwilling to leave the many splendors of this magical land, but immensely grateful for getting an opportunity to visit it, it was however time to head back to India (or reality?).

This country brings many superlatives to mind yet each seems fitting. Druk Yul- a beautiful, many splendored land. A land in transition, with much to learn from its past and look forward to in its future. I only hope that whatever changes come they are in harmony with the ways of old and the best of the new.

As they say in Dzongkha, Tashi Delek! (May good things come your way)

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To hear the roar of the Thunder Dragon!

Image

A trip to Bhutan

I was fortunate enough to get a chance to visit the land called Druk Yul in Dzongkha (the national language of Bhutan) in April 2013. Bhutan is not yet high on the tourist map since it caters mainly to high-end travelers. To protect the beauty and pristine environment, the number of visitors to Bhutan are restricted through the high cost of travel, star hotels, visa permits, etc.. India has signed trade agreements with Bhutan, thus being an Indian made it easier to travel there. However, we still needed a separate permit (for both entry and exit) for each district that we visited! (Looks like everyone is suspicious of Indians).

Mid-air the pilot brought our attention to the lofty Himalayan mountains- we were lucky enough to spot Mt. Everest, Kanchenjunga and Makalu.

As we began our descent to Bhutan, deep valleys covered with forests of pine and cypress enfolded by snow-capped mountains gave us a glimpse of what was in store for us. However, nothing could prepare us for the awe-inspiring sights as we stepped out of the plane. We landed at Paro, an hour’s drive from the capital city of Thimpu, courtesy Druk Air or the Royal Bhutan Airlines. The airport was a small one built in the traditional Bhutanese style of a sloping wooden roof supported by wooden beams jutting out, painted with sacred Buddhist symbols. It is impressive to note that as a way of preserving the traditional architectural designs, the law mandates that all buildings be built in this fashion.

An hour’s drive on some very high quality roads (thanks to the Border Roads Organization- Indian army), along the Paro chu (Chu in Dzongkha translates to river) brought us to Thimpu. Check-in formalities and a refreshing cup of coffee later, we were all set to explore the city.

However, being the National Election Day everything was shut down till evening thus forcing us to return to our rooms for lunch and an afternoon nap.

Democracy has been introduced in Bhutan only a few years ago, and it is important to note that it was the initiative of the 4th King to open up the economy and give power in the hands of his people. The royal family is revered as gods and this decision made the king even more beloved to his people.

Bhutan seems like something from the pages of Grimm’s fairytales- a small and beautiful kingdom ruled by a benevolent king and his beautiful queen, who take care of their people and who in turn are loved and respected by their subjects.

The people are content, without being ambitious or greedy and still follow their age-old customs and beliefs. They are ardent followers of Buddhism and law-abiding citizens.

Thimpu has no traffic lights or speed breakers. Pedestrians are given the right of way and everyone follows the speed limit. In India, where roads are treated as runways and sidewalks as dedicated two-wheeler lanes, traffic lights which no one pays heed to and pedestrians trying to navigate among this chaos- it were refreshing and surprising to see the traffic and civic sense of the Bhutanese people.

Why is it that we find it so difficult to follow rules? We need someone to constantly drill them into our heads and when someone tries to do it, we feel offended? It’s not rocket science, is it?

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