Sunday, November 26, 2017

A beautiful bike ride in Holland!

Cycling was my passion during my college days. In fact, my friends used to call me ‘Jet’ because of the way I ride the bicycle. Netherlands (In German, Neider = lower, land = country) is unarguably the best place to ride a bicycle. If you still want to argue, let me take you through my dream ride.

Colourful tulips, at its’ full bloom, in the second half of April attracted me to Keukenhof tulip gardens. After getting drenched in the beauty of splendid tulips at ‘The Garden of Europe’, I wanted to return to Amsterdam. Unexpectedly, a large number of orange bicycles grabbed my attention. I approached the stall and choose to take a ride through one of the three available routes.

A separate one-way tar road for the bicycles with green grass on either side of the road made my eye balls go big. But, my eyes were on stalk when I noticed the yellow and white flowers in the green grass along the road. The end of such a beautiful path took me to a canal and a pond on either side of the road. If the white lotus flowers surrounded by the large green leaves in the pond look stunning, the swans around the flowers just made my jaw drop. I took a break to admire the beauty. When I resumed my ride, the sight of numerous bridges connecting each house across the canal only filled my eyes with more admiration towards the manmade nature.

The list of disbeliefs continued to follow my ride when I came across an old wooden bridge with no barriers. The bridge opened my path to acres of bright coloured tulips fields separated by small canals. If the sight of such a beautiful view can be described as ethereal, a ride in the fields amidst colourful tulips just fails my words to describe the experience. I took another break to spend more time in the tulip fields and experience the heavenly moments. A further ride for two miles took me to a dark path that resembles a thick forest. With an eerie ambience and no biker in sight, only my thoughts of fear tried to break the deafening silence. At the end of the tunnel comes the light; at the end of the dark path comes a new field of tulips.

I took a diversion from the usual path and rode towards the smaller villages nearby. A small village welcomed me with a large field of red and yellow flowers. I parked my orange bicycle and ran into the field as my joy knew no bounds. A further ride into the village took me by the biggest surprise. There are at least 30 floats (a decorated platform behind the truck) getting ready for an annual flower parade. Each float has a different theme (such as angry birds, Thailand, EU, fashion, etc.) and was decorated gorgeously with beautiful flowers. A 20 kilometer return trip to Keukenhof only made my heart heavy, with plenty of memories.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Spanish La Tomatina Experience

'La Tomatina' is a tomato fight festival that takes place every year on the last Wednesday of August in Spain, only for an hour (11am to 12 noon). For the first time, when I read about this unique festival, I dreamt of playing with tomatoes. For the second time, when I saw this experience in 'Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara' movie, my nascent dream kicked this experience to the top of my bucket list. I moved to Europe in 2015 and I knew that it is just a matter of time before I live my dream. While planning to attend 'La Tomatina' festival, I was skeptical whether I should club this with my crazy solo trips.

Whom should I play with?
Do I really enjoy playing alone?
All those doubts took a back seat as my strong desire to attend the festival triumphed. I reached the venue in Bunol (Spain) and forced my way through the crowd. I managed to get near the pole position where the tomato trucks start. While the road was covered with a sea of crazy souls, the houses along the road were covered with long plastic covers hanging from the second floor. Being pushed in all the directions amidst 20,000 people, I could only see the glaring sun through my tomatina goggles. Villagers watching the festival from the top of their buildings occasionally sprinkled water.

As the first truck of tomatoes started coming towards us, the crowd went berserk and threw the glasses with bear, in the air. We were pushed towards the walls to make the way for the truck. As the truck passed by, a few people on the truck threw tomatoes on us. I caught a couple of tomatoes and started staring at the crowd. Various groups started playing with their friends by crushing tomatoes against each other. I got the tomatoes in my hands but I was puzzled thinking why did I come alone all the way to Spain and suffer this embarrassment.

Now, a second truck of tomatoes went past through me. I saw the crowd enjoying by lifting their girl friends on their shoulders or crushing the tomatoes on their friends' faces. I rested hands on my waist and cursed my decision to come alone. A heavy smack on my head jolted me and I found a few tomatoes crushed against my head. When I turned around, a beautiful girl was laughing at me. I was polite and tried to explain her that she mistook my identity. She banged a few more tomatoes on my head. Enraged by this, I tried to crush a couple of tomatoes against her face. Meanwhile, another guy smacked a few tomatoes against my face. I left the girl and started chasing the guy. Another person came from behind and crushed a few more tomatoes on my head. I completely lost track of what was happening around me. Am I the "Bond 007" targeted by enemies in this festival?

As my thoughts disappeared, a third truck of tomatoes went past us. As soon as I got the tomatoes in my hand, I squeezed those and smacked against the heads and faces of the people surrounding me. Others took their turn to paint me red with the juice of ripe tomatoes. Eventually, we formed into two groups and started squashing tomatoes at each other. In five to ten minutes, I have a big group of friends and foes to fight with tomatoes. I raised my decibel levels and made my presence felt while playing with tomatoes. The more you shout, the more you get hit with tomatoes. I simply loved it! What followed was "Madness"! All I remember was that a few more trucks passed by and we shouted, jumped and danced in the tomato juice. When I posed for a photo, all my friends joined me and jumped on top of me. Fortunately, my bones are strong enough. All of us slept on the road and even went for a swim in the tomato juice.

A formal introduction and a customary photo session followed in the tomato swimming pools. A witty Australian friend started kidding "I squashed whatever came to my hand". My biggest embarrassment took a node dive and turned out to be one of the most memorable experiences to cherish.

Please find the album for this experience at:

Monday, May 1, 2017

Second Cultural Shock in Italy!

Cultural shocks are always entertaining to discuss. During my second month in Germany, I have planned a trip to Rome. In Munich airport, while I was standing to check in my baggage, I came across a beautiful girl who resembles that of a model from the fashion world. I glanced at her intermittently and smiled within myself. Suddenly, her eyeballs grabbed my attention and she also responded with a smile. My joy knew no bounds and I could feel my heart flying high with new born wings. I started praying God to place me next to her seat in the flight.

But, God has no heart. She was placed many rows behind me in the plane. God is not to be blamed completely either because I have an exceptional track record when it comes to such scenarios. Whenever I take a train, the whole compartment is full of men and elders. Taking a flight will ensure the same in the rows around me. I used to comfort myself thinking that I am destiny's child. Throughout my journey to Rome, I cursed God and myself for my bad luck. When we reached Rome, I waited for her at baggage carousel in the pretext of picking my baggage. She came and stood at a distance waiting to pick her suitcase. To everyone's surprise, the flight officials announced that our luggage is coming by the next flight and we have to wait for an hour at the baggage carousel. I felt that an unexpected twist in this story is created by God to give me a chance.

God has a beautiful heart and he bestows opportunities to the right people! Now, it is my turn to grab this opportunity. Without wasting my time, I gathered the courage and slowly moved towards her to introduce myself. When I lifted my head, I was taken by a big surprise. I saw another equally beautiful girl beside her and both of them compete fiercely with each other for the best model in a fashion show. Oh my God! How did I miss the second girl? Attempting to judge between those two girls, I was puzzled to conclude whom I should talk to. It has become the decision of my life at that point. After a brief thought, I decided to go with my first crush and walked towards her. I could see the twinkle in her eyes as I approached towards her. I thought that she is unable to forget my first smile. As I increased the pace of my footsteps both the beautiful girls hugged and started kissing each other. This glance gave me a big jolt and my mouth and eyes were wide open without my knowledge. The new born wings of my flying heart were chopped off mercilessly. I told myself "How can they do this? Both are very beautiful, yet..."

God is cruel! Unable to come out of the shock, I still moved towards them. As I got a closer view of them, I reduced the pace of my footsteps and slowly moved past them. As I took ten steps beyond the girls, I heard a conversation and stopped by. A guy spoke to the second guy "Both the girls are extremely beautiful and can get any guy on this earth. How on earth can they do this? They are really mad." On hearing this, my lips moved wide with a slight smile. I felt that he spoke my mind. The second guy answered "Shut up! It is their choice. You do not have any right to comment on their private life." His response reverberated through my ears and I came to terms with this fact that each person has the right to make his/her own decision. Who am I to intrude into their private life or personal decisions?

Since then, I preferred not to discuss or create opinions about others' personal lives. This experience helped me stop gossip about others and respect each individual with varied diversity.

Monday, March 20, 2017

I regret ...

Imagine a helpless man fighting against a ferocious bull in a closed ring (arena). Yes, you heard it right!

‘Spanish Bull Fight’! Every time I hear these words, I get goosebumps. I am always amazed at the skill of a man challenging an arrogant bull that can kill him anytime. I never saw any video of a bull fight and always wanted to visit the bullring.

    Spring announced the arrival of bullfights paving my way to Spain. Valencia, a beautiful city in Eastern Spain, greeted me warmly with crowded streets and hustling crowds. Valencia is decorated with beautiful and exotic structures at every street to celebrate Las Fallas, a popular festival in Spain. Valencians are dressed in traditional Spanish outfits, outside the stadium named ‘Plaza de Toros de Valencia’, excited me to enjoy the bull fight. The bullring, with hundreds of spectators, reminded me of the Roman Colosseum brought to life.

    A few guys dressed in dazzling costumes, with bright colors, came to the middle of the bull ring. Those guys are called matadors who possess exceptional skills to fight with bulls. The spectators are yet to settle down in their seats and the noise ruled the stadium. A whistle blew to signal the start of the fight. A momentary silence followed the whistle sound with bated breaths of spectators waiting for the bull. All matadors ran outside the ring and only one matador remained in the middle of the ring. A hefty 1800-pound (800kg) ferocious bull entered the arena running towards the lonely matador. The bellowing bull with loud noise stopped in front of the matador who was holding a red cloth. The bull saw the red cloth, got agitated and started kicking the ground with its feet. It aimed the horns towards the matador and jumped towards him pulling all its weight at once. The matador escaped the bulls’ horns and showed the red cloth again to the bull. The matador repeatedly deceived the bull and escaped from its horns. The thought of human triumph against the mighty bull gave a sudden rush of blood to my head.

    All of a sudden, the stadium was reverberated with a loud cry of the bull. I realized that the matador inserted a sharp spike into the bull’s flesh and it cried in pain. Matador held his hands high with victory sign and got soaked in a resounding applause from the crowd. The bull was in pain and ready to take vengeance and jumped towards the matador again. The bull missed him and he inserted another sharp spike into its flesh. I expected the bull to lift the matador with its horns and throw him to 30 feet outside the ring. But, I was puzzled and could not understand why the bull was unable to combat. I took a close look at the fight again for a few more minutes. Then, I was shocked to realize that the bull is trying to hit the moving cloth and not the matador standing in front of it. The bull could have killed the matador but the innocent creature stood in front of him waiting for the execution. As the supposed fight came to an end, the matador inserted a sword in the bull’s head and it tumbled and died in a flash without any noise. But, the bull’s cry recoiled in my ears and passed the pain to my heart. The dead bull’s corpse was dragged outside the arena and the view was piteous.

    Another heavy bull entered the ring and met the same fate. Without my knowledge, tears popped around my eyeballs at the sight of the pseudo fight. Bigger and stronger bulls are expected to enter the ring for execution but I could not sit there anymore and left the bullring with regret. Even though humans try to kill those bulls, those bulls endure the pain, pardon humans and show the so called humanity to humans. I agree that evading the bulls’ horns is no fun for matadors. But, is it fair? Is it fun? Give a thought! I request everyone to skip a bull fight and protest the gruesome display of humans killing animals for fun. Besides, I even started preferring vegetarian or vegan diet since then.