Picture of the Week #30

Picturesque town of Sapa in Northern Vietnam.  The town is nestled in some of the highest peaks in Vietnam and it's close proximity to Hanoi ensures that it is a popular weekend destination for city slickers.  I climbed Vietnam's highest peak (10,310 feet) in one day while I was here; it was an exhilarating trek and a personal challenge for me.

My Words of Wisdom

I saw a terrible accident a few days ago on the highway.  There was smoke coming out of the car and someone was trapped inside it.  It wasn't clear whether that person was dead or alive.  "Jaws of Life" were being used by the fire fighters to cut through the metal doors and get the person out.

That made me think how short and unpredictable life is.  Anything can happen and without warning.  We are here today and gone tomorrow.  We waste so much time and energy being angry, upset and unhappy.  In the end, it's just not worth it.  We have to learn to be forgiving towards others, and more importantly, ourselves.  Don't put your ego ahead of everything.  It's okay to make mistakes.

Sometimes we just need to sit back and think about what is really important to us?  Too often we are running behind the wrong things (like money or something similar).

One never knows whether we will have a tomorrow or not.  So don't waste your Today on negative things.  We should do whatever that is in our hands; for everything else, just hope for the best.

Learn to give.
Learn to forgive.
Learn to love.
Learn to be happy.

This is to everybody:

If I've upset you - I'm sorry.
If I've wronged you - Please forgive me.

Remember, Don't Forget Your Passport!

You may be wondering where the name of this blog came from?  Don't-Forget-Your-Passport!  Many many years ago I used to watch a show on TV called "Don't Forget Your Passport".  It was a great show featuring off-beat destinations like Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam and Bolivia.  I'm not sure if the show is still on TV.

This show inspired me to travel on my own.  I always wondered whether I could do it or not.  Now I know.  I can be independent, find my own way and survive in a foreign country whose language I don't speak, without being scared.  In fact, instead of being scared, I now find it exciting!  I feel... this is what life is all about: Dreaming... Believing... Discovering...

After meeting Dr. Prakash Amte and Dr. Mandakini Amte in 2007 in Toronto, a new dimension has been added.  I don't just want to see things, but I also want to do my part in helping the poor people.  I started with bringing used (but still nice) clothing from Canada and donating those to people in small villages (wadis) in India when ever I went trekking.  That is my way of giving back to the society... and villages in the Sahyadris are very close to my heart.  I'm not doing great things, but I'm doing what I can.  I'll try to do more in the future.

[Angkor Wat in Cambodia - the largest Hindu Temple in the world - Picture by Neeraj]

Cambodia was the first country I traveled to on my own.  My flight from Toronto was via Hong Kong.  When I reached Hong Kong I was quite nervous about how I would manage in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, seeing as I was reaching in the evening and did not even have a hotel room booked, nor did I know where I was going to stay.  But when my flight took off from Hong Kong I saw some mountains and all my fears and apprehensions were instantly gone and I had a smile on my face.

Such is the magic of mountains for me.

This blog is dedicated to the show that gave the world to me.  Not only did I discover the world, I discovered myself.  Thanks and Cheers!

And remember, Don't Forget Your Passport!

Picture of the Week #29

Colours of India [Kala Ghoda Art Festival in Mumbai, Feb. 2010]

"Berang si hai badi zindagi kuchh rang to bharoon..."

Picture of the Week #28

The famous Marine Drive of Mumbai, India.  I want to go there again...  I want to visit at night and in the rainy season.  I can just imagine myself sippin' on a hot cup of tea as I sit there and hear the waves crashing on the rocks... ahhh that's what I call peace of mind.

Observations from GO Train Commuting: A Satire

I wrote a post on my observations from Myanmar/Burma after traveling all over the country.  I thought I will do something similar for Canada seeing as I live here.  However, I'm limiting myself to what I've observed while commuting to work.  I take the "GO Train" to downtown Toronto everyday to go to the office.  It's a 20 minute ride.  Here's what I have observed 90% of the commuters are doing in the train:

(1)  Checking and replying to e-mails on their BlackBerry.  The invention of BlackBerry is probably the best thing that has happened for the corporate world.  They give their employees a BlackBerry and ensure that they can never fully get away from the office.  Interestingly, having a BlackBerry has become sort of a corporate status symbol - you're a nobody until somebody gives you a BlackBerry.

(2)  Reading.  Most of the men wearing Armani suits are reading the upper-class 'Globe and Mail' newspaper.  They are normally reading the Business section catching up on the latest mergers and acquisitions, takeovers, earnings reports and other World Markets' news.  Most other readers stick to the free newspaper having many career related and "get-away-to-the-Caribbean" articles.  The remaining few readers use the commute time to escape to an imaginary world (i.e. reading a novel).

(3)  Sleeping.  Most people who are not doing any of the above are catching up on their sleep.  Some are probably dreaming about winning the Lotto 649 lottery and escaping from the daily grind and rat race, while others are probably too tired to even dream about escaping.

So what am I doing?  Starin' out the window like a kid. :)

Sometimes I have a smile on my face and people may wonder why.  That's probably because I'm thinking of the time when I was in a train in Burma that used to "jump" so much that people literally bounced on their hard wooden seats.  Or maybe I'm thinking of the time when I was in a local train in India and it was so crowded that there wasn't even enough space to stand straight.

Sometimes I'm just sleeping peacefully...

PS: My observation sucks.  The above is elementary my dear Watson!

Anandwan Greeting Card Follow-up

Last Saturday, on March 6th, I had setup a table for selling Anandwan's hand-made greeting cards at Toronto's Marathi Bhashik Mandal's combined Sahitya and Sangeet Sammelan programs, which were attended by about 200 people.

The sales beat my expectations.  A total of about 60 cards were sold that raised $216.  I sold it for $4 a piece or $10 for three cards.  Most people opted for the 3-for-10 deal.  Assuming the same pricing scheme going forward and assuming that I sell all 500 cards, I will be able to raise about $1800 (~Rs.80,000) for Anandwan.  My plan is to donate Rs.100,000, so I will make up the difference by collecting donations.

I learned that there's a lot of goodwill for Baba Amte and many people want to help but don't actually want to take the initiative to do something.  So when they see someone doing something, then they are more than happy to help.

The only sad part is that many people purchased the cards because it was for "charity" and not because they actually wanted to buy the cards.  Some people tried to give me $10 without taking the cards, but I insisted that they take the cards as that would be injustice to the makers of the beautiful cards.  At the back of every card were Baba's words: "give them a chance not charity."

Many good things came out of this.  People were happy to see me selling the cards because they feel that young people are no longer interested in any sort of social work.  I don't agree with that.  I think it is the older generation that is somewhat out of touch with such things.  It is also true that because our parents worked hard, that we, their children, are able to even think about doing something for others.  There's an old saying, "charity beings at home."  First we have to help ourselves, then we can think of helping others.

Beside my Anandwan greeting card table were organizers of a musical program who were selling tickets to their upcoming show, Gulzar, featuring Hrishikesh Ranade.  One of the organizers liked what I was doing and offered me a table to sell the cards at their show, free of charge.  Normally, they charge $200.  So, I will be doing this again on April 16th.  I also spoke to the other organizers of Gulzar about Baba Amte as they weren't aware of his work.  The same person who had earlier offered me a free table to sell Anandwan cards at his show has decided to organize another show featuring local artists, the profits from which will go to the Amtes.  That show is tentatively scheduled for July/August.

Now that I think about it, it would've been foolish and selfish of me had I not brought the cards with me to Toronto.  I almost didn't bring them.  I was almost prepared to leave the cards in Mumbai.  A good trekking friend of mine made me realize my responsibility and Baba Amte's words also came to mind: "responsibility is not transferable."   I think God saved me from committing a big sin.

The credit for making this possible goes to that someone - you know who you are - who actually carried the large boxes of cards from Thane to Chembur in a crowded local train.  Thank you.  Taking the cards to Canada was the easy part.

"God brings no luck to idle hands."
- Baba Amte

Picture of the Week #27

The magnificent Halong Bay in Vietnam!  This natural wonder of 2,000 limestone islands spread across an area of 1,500 sq km. must be seen to be believed.  I took an overnight cruise of the bay and loved every minute of it.  I also swam and did kayaking.  This would also make an ideal honeymoon destination for those planning.  It's a magical place.  I love it!

A Poem by Swami Vivekananda

When I Asked God for Strength
He Gave Me Difficult Situations to Face

When I Asked God for Brain and Brown
He Gave Me Puzzles in Life to Solve

When I Asked God for Happiness
He Showed Me Some Unhappy People

When I Asked God for Wealth
He Showed Me How to Work Hard

When I Asked God for Favours
He Showed Me Opportunities to Work Hard

When I Asked God for Peace
He Showed Me How to Help Others

God Gave Me Nothing I Wanted
He Gave Me Everything I Needed

- Swami Vivekananda