Category Archives: Other

… Into Heaven

For Part 1 of this account, go here.

We reached Six Senses Ninh Van Bay pretty tired and a little hassled due to our hellish journey. I remind you of our journey only because it explains my mindset that if Six Senses had been even a little short of perfect, I would have considered it a failure, simply because I was convinced that everything that could go wrong, will. Fortunately for us, the next 7 days were heavenly.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. I’ll try to stick to that.

NATURAL BEAUTY

Six Senses Ninh Van Bay is blessed with an incredible location. The resort is spread over 220 acres and is situated on its own private bay. They furthermore have a private beach on the same island which is accessible by a boat ride.

There is not much I can say about how beautiful the whole area is. The air is cleaner, there is a distinct absence of noise, and litter is nowhere to be found. Just the perfect place to unwind.

Every evening, guests would congregate at the Bar for Happy Hour, at which time extraordinary views of the sunset could be had while lying on hammocks strung above the beach. We tried to catch the sunset almost every day, as it really was something else.

Right across the bay, at the foot of those hills with clouds rolling over it, lies Six Senses.

A brilliant purplish hue to the evening sky. Astonishing. If the kaleidoscope of colors doesn’t come through in the above image, i’m to blame, not the sky.

ACTIVITIES

One of the ways Shradha & I are blessed is that we dont have to carry a truck load of food when we travel. We’re quite happy sampling the local cuisine rather than break out our ‘khakhra/bhujia/nimki-achaar’ combo every 6 hours. It helps that we eat all cuisines, and nowadays almost every place can serve you something that is delicious AND vegetarian.

Six Senses took care of us like we were royalty. The chef would come during every meal to ask us what we would like to eat. Mind you, I’m not saying they brought a menu and asked us to pick something out. they’d simply ask us what we would like to eat, and then they’d make it for us.

A small example: Shradha usually had pancakes for breakfast, a neglected option for most other guests. Still, the female chef would make fresh whipped cream solely for her and bring it to our table herself. She was always trying to make our meals more interesting and enjoyable, and for that I cant thank her enough. For example, one time she made a bunch of vegetarian Vietnamese dishes for us and sent it to our villa. I did not know what 80% of those dishes were called, or even what they had in them, but by this time I was so confident that the chef knew exactly what we ate and what we didnt, that we didnt have any hesitation in digging in. She laid out an absolute feast for us and it was wonderful!

Chef Lalith was a rockstar. He was usually around for lunches and dinners, and would take care of our food specially. One of the nights for dinner the resort was hosting ‘Curry Night’, where there were a ton of Asian curries and mostly with a Vietnamese flavor. I am sure there must have been a ton of guests to whom he was catering to, and yet he made a whole spread of Indian food that night. Well, this will explain it better:

Yeah, thats Aloo with Gravy, Dal, Veg Jhalfrezi, Cucumber Raita, Coconut Chutney, Achaar, Rotis, Rice and Papad. Looking at it is making me hungry again. Lip-smackingly good stuff!

The Spa is something both Shradha and I look forward to a lot whenever we travel. A good spa can make or break a trip. In Ninh Va Bay, the Spa wasn’t just good, it was great! They gave us a free massage the day after our arrival, and the other massages we took were all extremely relaxing and rejuvenating. We had a ton of fun. That it was extraordinarily peaceful and beautiful didnt hurt.

The entrance to the Spa. The rocks on either side have water falling over them. Very soothing.

LOCAL CULTURE

We went on a day trip to a local village to see more about how the average Vietnamese lives. The infrastructure is decent, especially the roads, which I assume is because of the Vietnam War. However, in most other aspects the country is quite similar to what India was 15-20 years ago.

We asked our guide to show us some local industries. He took us to a family that has been making Rice Paper for the last 7 generations. The speed with which they worked, and how roughly they seemed to be handling the delicate Rice Paper at extremely high temperatures, was a sight to behold. Shradha tried her hand at every step of the process, and thankfully came out of the whole ordeal without burning/hurting/embarrassing either herself or anyone else. I, of course, was content looking from a distance and taking pictures. I did join in when they gave us some Rice Paper to eat though. For, you know, research purposes.

This is how they dry the Rice Paper. It can be eaten directly, or with some accompaniments, or can be used to make a variety of other products as well.

Next we went to meet a family that makes traditional Vietnamese hats.
The work ethic of the ladies was worth emulating. Also, it was shocking to know how little they are paid for each hat. Sad really, but its a dying industry, mostly kept alive by tourists like us.

The lady on the left is 68. The one on the right is 89. The dude behind the camera (er, me) is 29, and would probably get beat black and blue if he got in a fight with these ladies. Great work ethic, great stamina, and great powers of concentration at this age! Hats off! 😉

After that, we went to a local eatery to try some authentic, local, vegetarian dishes. The owner did not understand English, so our guide explained what we could eat and what we couldnt. I could not have been more stressed before our food arrived, and the food could not have been more excellent once it did. We were good children that day… we finished all the food on our plates.

It was a meal full of flavors and spices. Far in the background, you might see the frozen coconut they gave us to begin with meal with. A very simple and thus different meal, and a very good one.

Fishing is still the biggest trade for the local populace of Nha Trang (the area we were in.) They worship the Whale and from what I could understand from our guide, if someone sees a whale they cant get married for a year or something like that… which explains the line of young dudes with binoculars lining the harbor. Er, yeah, fishing. We went to a fish market, because why the hell not. Our noses told us why the hell not within 5 seconds of setting foot in it. However, our guide thought us very cultured people for enquiring so politely about the fish market and gave us the Mega-Long Extra-Detailed Super-Duper tour. Unwilling to break his image of us, we went along, trying to breathe as little as possible. The only thing of beauty in my view were the boats. All of them were painted blue, and looked amazing bobbing around on the sea.

Dont ask me why ALL of them are blue cuz I have no idea. They just are. Its a communist country, maybe no one cares which or whose boat they take. (Thats the one ignorant joke quota per post done with!)

RELIGION

Please note: My knowledge of Vietnamese religion extends only to what our guide told us. There is every possibility that things might have been lost in translation.

Vietnam has a bunch of religions, but it seemed Buddhism was the largest of them. One tradition that perhaps all religions have in common, though, is honoring and worshipping their ancestors. Almost all homes have a small temple, and larger families can use a full plot of land to build temples to their ancestors. Our guide was one religion, his wife was another, and his mother a third. From the general impression I got, it seemed like there was a high level of religious tolerance, which was admirable.

Inside a Buddhist temple. You may notice a small Buddha right in front, behind whom is a larger Buddha, behind whom is another Buddha, and so on. I believe there are around 4-5 Buddhas set in a straight line in this way. The walls and ceilings were beautifully painted with events from Buddha’s life, and they were so expressive that you could follow exactly what was going on in each painting without even knowing the captions in Vietnamese.

The scene at the top of the hill. I climbed 200+ steps to find this humongous statue of Buddha. The surprising thing was how quiet it was. There were a ton of people around, and yet everyone was respectful of each other and barely a whisper could be heard. Even the beggars were polite! Gave me an inferiority complex as an Indian.

There are quite a few similarities between our religion and theirs. For example, this is how the devotees pray to Buddha, which is very similar to how I pray to Shradha.

SIX SENSES GOES CRAZY

Half way through our stay, Six Senses told us that we were being upgraded to the Rock Retreat. It was set amidst rocks the size of a small house, and covered 3000 sqft. The only way it could be accessed was via speed boat… which means every time we ordered Room Service, they would send our food via boat. This seemed crazy to me, so I asked our Butler (Oh yeah, we had a private butler. In fact, every guest is assigned a butler who takes care of all reservations, appointments, activities etc) about it, and she said not to worry about it and not hesitate to call if I needed anything at all.

The villa has its own private jetty where boats dock. Then there is a main villa, with another villa sized bathroom attached. There is a separate villa as well, complete with a bathroom. Then there is a large outdoor cabana with a full bed and mini bar. Then there is a huge infinity edged swimming pool carved out of a rock. Then there is a separate outside covered area for dining. Then there is another separate area in case you want to get Spa done in your villa itself. There are also areas where you can actually climb on the rocks. Oh, and between the two villas, there is an outside shower.

Its was as mental as you think it was.

So… There’s an area you cant see behind the area you can see, and there is an area you cant see in front of the area you can see. Basically, there are lots of parts of our villa missing in this photo.

The pool was carved out of a rock. Just ridiculous. I must admit that we were lucky to get great weather throughout our time there, which definitely played a big part in how much we enjoyed.

A FEW PERSONAL PHOTOS

On a more personal note, many of you might know that I hate getting my photo taken. I absolutely hate it. I dont remember last seeing a picture of myself and thinking “Hmm, this one aint so bad.” It just doesn’t happen. Which is why God, in his infinite wisdom, has gotten me married to a woman who takes an almost perverse pleasure in taking my pictures, whether of me alone or of us together.

The following conversation actually took place and is 100% accurate.

I’m on a Boat, so automatically I was thinking of a Lonely Island song.

Shradha – Let me take a picture.
Me – No.
Shradha – Why?
Me – Why take a picture?
Shradha – I want to. You only take pictures of the sky and hills and flowers and roads and other pointless things. We should take more pictures of ourselves.
Me – … … … No.
Shradha – Why?
Me – Just.
Shradha – Ok just look there for 5 seconds.
Me – C’mon, stop. Let me be.
Shradha – No it’ll barely take 5 seconds. Just look that way.
Me – Fine whatever. (I look that way, fuming.)
Shradha – A little to the right.
Me – Christ. (I look to the right.)
Shradha – Good. You know, if you put your hand on this post, it will be better.
Me – Ok. (I’ve completely surrendered to my fate by this time.)
Shradha – Ok stay still now.
*click*

I dont see what Shradha sees in the photo (or in me, for that matter), but there it is above you. In case you are wondering about my expression in the photo, I am thinking whether I would be able to swim to the Resort if I jumped off the damn boat.

One last, final discovery I made while I was in Vietnam. You see, for the longest time I thought Hat-Stands (where English Gentlemen used to hang their hats, umbrellas etc) went out of fashion by the 1920’s. What I didnt know till I saw photographic proof was that they have made a comeback of sorts – in the form of the Indian husband.

I’m just gonna go there, wait for me, meanwhile hold this and this, put this in your pocket, carry my purse… oh and let me just put this on your head.

A Journey through Hell…

Shradha and I were entering Delhi’s T3 terminal, excited and looking forward to a long delayed vacation. It had taken a lot of last minute scrambling to make our vacation a reality for reasons I wont go into, suffice to say all preparations had been done in the last week itself. However, our tickets were booked, our hotel had our reservations and our visas had been received a day earlier. All said, we were already imagining ourselves in Vietnam.

All seemed to be going well… until disaster struck. Vietnam allows you to have a letter of introduction issued from the local consulate which assures you a Visa on Arrival. The dude at the Thai Airways counter took a look at our Visas and tickets, printed Shradha’s boarding pass, then started frowning. Soon he had dialed some higher up and was gesticulating animatedly at my ticket and visa.

Turns out my Visa had been issued on my previous passport. Thankfully, I was carrying my old passport as well, and so was able to furnish it to prove my credentials. You would think that should be enough, right? Wrong.

Their worry was that if they let me go with the documents I have, and then I am denied a Visa, they will be on the hook for letting a passenger travel with less than ideal documents. I asked them to confirm with their head office if they could, so that they would have some clarity. They called up Bangkok to confirm whether someone in my situation would be given a Vietnam Visa on landing there. They didn’t pick up for 20 minutes. When they finally did, they said they had no idea and to call to Ho Chi Minh desk. They called up Ho Chi Minh, and those heroes didn’t pick up the phone at all. Welcome to the work ethic of a communist country.

I requested them to let me go, and that there wouldn’t be a problem as I would use my unlimited charm and my innocent looking face (Its a God given gift, really) to worm my way into receiving a Visa once I land in Vietnam. Perhaps my charm might have worked in Vietnam, but it didn’t work in Delhi. They apologized profusely but didn’t give me a boarding ticket. The best they could do, they told me, was give me a ticket for a later date without any extra charges. After a quick chat with my travel agent, I ended up getting my ticket reissued for the 7th of October, 2 days after we were originally scheduled to fly.

On 6th morning, I applied for an emergency visa to Vietnam. I further discussed the accommodation situation and resolved it satisfactorily. On 7th morning, I had the Visa in my hand, this time with the correct passport number printed. Check in was smooth that night, and soon we were on our way to Bangkok, where we had a short transit. All smooth sailing from here on out, right? Wrong.

By the time we landed in Bangkok, Shradha had started to feel a little under the weather. However, it wasn’t anything major, and so we soldiered on, still in a pretty good mood. By the time our flight landed in Ho Chi Minh, however, she had taken a turn for the worse and was feeling quite ill. There were two options in front of us – 1. Take the Visa and head onwards, or 2. Go back to Kolkata. After about half an hour, Shradha gave the go ahead, and we got in line for the Visa.

We were scheduled to fly domestic from Ho Chi Minh to Nha Trang, and there was another couple who was in the same flight as us. Eric and Kathy were from Norway and were on a backpacking tour of South East Asia. They had already covered Japan, Hong Kong and Thailand, and were going onwards after Vietnam to Indonesia and the Philippines. Their trip would take them 3 months and ours was only for a week, and yet they had 2 backpacks and we had 2 pieces of luggage of similar if not larger size, along with 2 smaller hand carry suitcases, and Shradha’s purse. Talk about feeling like a luxury-loving, privileged, spoilt Marwari brat.

Being of a similar age, we hit it off pretty well and walked out. Eric had to buy some Duty Free stuff and we were also feeling a little hungry, so we took our time. As it is, our flight was at 3 in the afternoon and we had landed at 10 in the morning, so we had plenty of time. However I, being the eternal worrier, hurried everyone along saying that lets just check in, and we’ll chill after getting all the formalities sorted. Shouldn’t have been much a problem, right? Wrong.

We walked into the Domestic Terminal and approached the JetStar counter. A woman was sitting there, nonchalantly clanking on her keyboard while ignoring customers. I asked her about checking in to our flight to Nha Trang, and she replied with the dreaded words – “Sorry sir, that flight is cancelled.” Nonplussed, I asked her when the next flight was so that she could put us into it, and she replied there’s only one flight per day, and the earliest flight we could catch would be tomorrow. After I explained to her that it was impossible for me to stay a day in Ho Chi Minh, she pointed us towards the VietJet ticket counters. It was 11.50.

A 55 kg lump of incompetence greeted me at the VietJet counter. I have no idea whether she did it on purpose or was genuinely terrible at her job, but she had trouble understanding simple words like Nha Trang and Tickets. After two minutes of playing Dumb Charades with her, another rep took over our counter and finally we got some answers. Yes, they had a flight to Nha Trang. Yes, they had tickets available. You’d think it was time to start singing Hallelujah, right? Wrong.

She told us the cost of each ticket was $100. Vietnam might be a communist country, but this lady knew how capitalism works, and she used it quite ruthlessly against us. With no other option, I forked out $200, and so did Eric. It was 12.05.

We rushed to the check-in counters and were met with a lady who must have been a direct descendant of Stalin. I don’t think she smiled for the 10 minutes we were forced to spend looking at her face. She didn’t talk much either, except telling us our luggage was overweight. I tried telling her that we were on an International transit, and hence we should be allowed the additional weight. After all, JetStar had allowed it! She only replied with “Different Airlines, Different Policy.” Back to the ticket counter we went. The lady greeted us with a smile, but by this time her teeth looked like a Shark’s jaw to me, waiting to crush any hope I had of a smooth flight. Oh, how sad that we were overweight.No, International Transit wouldn’t work, as “Different Airlines, Different Policy.” Of course, we could purchase additional weight for the rock bottom price of $42. She grinned. I grimaced and paid up. She took her own sweet time printing out the receipt, while the VietJet counters had pretty much emptied, all passengers already near the boarding gate. I rushed to the check-in counter and produced the receipt, upon which finally my luggage was taken in. Eric and Kathy had no such issues with their luggage, of course, and were waiting for us to go through security. I was a little pissed at their ‘travel-light’ ways, but also grateful that they didn’t leave me alone as the only passenger still left for that flight. Oh well, onwards to paradise, right? Wrong.

Eric had bought a bottle of whiskey from the Duty Free shop in the international terminal. Upon going through security, he was stopped by Comrade I-know-no-English, soon joined by Comrade You-no-go-through-with-bottle. Eric didn’t know what the hell was going on, and neither did I. Finally we figured out that the security personnel wouldn’t let the bottle through as it didn’t have a seal. Eric told them that he had no idea a seal was required, and that he had just taken the bag as given to him by the people at the Duty Free shop. Shouldn’t it be their responsibility to pack it up properly? Comrade I-know-no-English wouldn’t budge, and took Eric back to the check-in counters, presumably to deposit the bottle in his checked-in luggage. No dice, all luggage was already gone. Eric asked the Security Personnel whether they would give the packet to the airline crew, and they could give it to him once he lands? Comrade You-no-go-through-with-bottle wouldn’t even entertain the thought. Finally, poor Eric had to leave his precious bottle of Whiskey on the Security Counter. I assumed it must have been an expensive purchase as Eric seemed livid and crushed in equal measure. The Comrades waved us goodbye with smiles on their faces. I guess their night’s libations had been arranged. In any case, we finally boarded the flight to Nha Trang. Our travel agent had already intimated the resort that we will be coming much earlier than planned, and they had done the needful rescheduling. Finally, all was well, right? Wrong.

You see, if Shradha was Superwoman (that ‘if’ is pretty unnecessary, isn’t it?), her kryptonite would be not eating at her designated time for meals. Shradha’s stomach had decided to play nice for a while, but now she wanted to eat something so that her stomach would settle down. Due to the transformation of our 5 hour relaxed and stress-free transit into a 2 hour run around like a headless chicken transit, we had not gotten the opportunity to have some lunch. No worries, I told Shradha, we’ll get some snacks on the flight to tide us over till we reach the resort. Looking over their in-flight menu, my heart and Shradha’s stomach sank. There were barely two items that could be termed vegetarian. As soon as possible after take off, I called the steward and asked him to bring two each of both items. Comrade Why-are-you-a-vegetarian smiled and politely informed us that both the items were not available. I asked him if there was anything, anything at all, that was vegetarian in what he had in the galley, and he nodded his head no, more vigorously than was needed, as if to rub salt on my wounds. I looked over with dread to Shradha, who had fallen asleep after telling me to rouse her when the food came, and decided not to wake her up after all. A sleeping person can’t feel hunger, right? Wrong.

By the time we landed in Nha Trang and Shradha woke up, she was in desperate need for sustenance. Her vomiting had died out, but something, anything, was required to make sure it remained dead. We got out after taking our luggage, said bye to Eric and Kathy, and were immediately greeted by a butler from the Six Senses resort. He helped me exchange Dollars into Vietnamese Dong (what an unfortunate name for their currency. As funny as the Canadian Loonie.) and also helped Shradha buy some fruits. After all, the car ride from the Airport to the private jetty of Six Senses would be an hour, and then there was a 30 minute speedboat ride to the resort itself. Shradha’s mood had brightened up considerably as she started to feel better, and I was just happy the needlessly stressful traveling part was over. I was in the hands of Six Senses now.

Nothing else could go wrong, right?

Right.

For Part 2 of this account, go here.

My first blog post!

First-Post1

I wondered for a while what my first blog post should be about, then decided that I should at least lay down some information on what I would be writing about on this site right at the beginning.

I’ll probably post about economics, politics, reviews of various forms of media, pop-culture etc. I’ll try to keep it light hearted, but I am sure at some point or the other the urge to write something serious and pseudo-philosophical will over power me. I promise to do my best to resist.

For those who know me on Facebook, you are well aware that my posting style is more akin to a volcano than a glacier… spurts of activity followed by a dormant state, rather than a constant movement forward. This site is no different. Expect it to silently go defunct, utterly neglected, within six months. I personally give it three, and thats only because I’m an optimist, a glass half full sorta guy.

Oh, and if things dont work on this site, whether it be comments, pages or anything else, please let me know. I should apologize in advance for any inconvenience caused due to my complete lack of knowledge about how to run a site. I’m running this site just like how I run my life… operating far beyond my circles of competence (and often comprehension.)

It’s very possible that if something’s broken, it might never be fixed. In that scenario, we’ll al just muddle along together as best as we can. Sound good?

Let the inanities begin, then.