Help Oindrila Choose her Stay in Moscow!

I was on top of the world when I found out last month that I won return flights to Moscow! 🙂 I pinched myself five times to confirm I wasn’t dreaming. This news couldn’t have come at a better time as I was really upset with my life and the lack of any foreign travel lately. But the world has an amazing way to surprise you and lift your mood when you least expect it!

One of many magical sights that await me! :-) (Source: burgessyachts.com/en/locations/moscow)

One of many magical sights that await me! 🙂 (Source: burgessyachts.com/en/locations/moscow)

While it is really nice to daydream about the wonderful experiences I’ll be having in Moscow, I must not forget that I first have to sort out my stay! I did a quick search for hotels in that city, and boy, are they expensive! I really don’t want to blow my budget on something I’ll only be using for the night. (I’ll be spending a lot of rubles on sightseeing and interesting restaurants and shopping!) I shut my laptop, and a fantastic thought struck me – Airbnb! This option is perfect for a travel freak like me who loves the authentic local experience. Here are the benefits:-

  • I can stay with a local, and yet have some privacy. (I get my own room! 🙂 )
  • If the host is nice (and has free time), I’ll have company on my outings.
  • I’ll get to practise some Russian with a real Russian! 🙂 (That makes me go “Ура”!)
  • And most importantly, it’s dirt cheap!

Now, you know how indecisive I can get when I have too many lovely options! So, I’m asking you all (my wise and well meaning readers 😉 ) to help me choose my stay. I have handpicked 5 rooms offered by some kind ladies (I have nothing against men, but my parents are paranoid! 😛 ) who live in the heart of Moscow. Now, I need your help to finalize my stay! Are you ready? Here are the nominations (*Academy Award style*):-

1. Cute Pink Room

Pink walls with pictures that tell a story? (Source: airbnb.co.in/rooms/1095147)

Pink walls with pictures that tell a story? (Source: airbnb.co.in/rooms/1095147)

This room is right at the top of my list. I love this one because of the thick mattress I can see on the bed. I’m already dreaming of what I’ll dream about when I sleep on it! The room also has a nice window from where I’ll be able to watch the snow melt. Can you see the three racks of books in that corner? I know I’ll be reading myself a story to bed every night!

2. Drawing-Room-Turned-Bedroom

Pullout sofa anyone?(Source: airbnb.co.in/rooms/3889387)

Pullout sofa anyone?(Source: airbnb.co.in/rooms/3889387)

This is a cosy flat in North Moscow. The host is offering her pullout couch with some pillows and blankets thrown in. This looks pretty basic and neat to me. What do you think? This room also has curtains (unlike the previous one). Then again, I’d really like all the sun to keep me warm in the -7 degrees of Moscow!

3. Free Kitchen Access

Home away from home? (Source: airbnb.co.in/rooms/4123024)

Home away from home? (Source: airbnb.co.in/rooms/4123024)

This host lives with her husband and a little child. She’s ready to give full access to her well equipped kitchen. (What if I want to try cooking a new Russian dish?) The neighbourhood is pretty posh and safe, but the residents will be at work all day, so I won’t have a local to take me around.

4. The Brain-and-Brawn Room

Gym + Library in my bedroom? :-)

Gym + Library in my bedroom? 🙂 (Source: airbnb.co.in/rooms/881796)

The spacious wood-floored bedroom has an entire wall full of books! And as if that wasn’t enough, they stock it with a treadmill an weightlifting bars! If I stay here, I’ll not only be slightly more intelligent from my trip, but also look like the female version of Arnold Schwarzenegger! (Okay, I was REALLY kidding there! A week’s worth of working out won’t even help me burn the pounds I’ll gain gorging on Muscovite cuisine.)

5. Four Poster Bed and Flowerpots

Wood and chocolate room?

Wood and chocolate room? (Source: airbnb.co.in/rooms/3870842)

This host sure has greenfingers because every room in her flat has half a dozen flowerpots! 🙂 It’ll be nice to share my room with another living being (only talking about plants here 😉 ). The room is really small, but the price makes up for it.

Alright! I’m done describing my options. If you were me, which would you choose? Help me decide and I’ll delight you with wonderful stories and pictures from my adventures in the mystical city of Moscow! You can view my Airbnb Wishlist for details of the rooms. If reading this article got you interested in Airbnb, you can sign up with my referral link. I’m giving away Airbnb credit worth Rs.1,549 if you use my link to register! (Thank me by helping me choose my stay, please.)

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The Big Bird Comes to India!

I was browsing through my old photographs the other day and I noticed how rapidly I had been outgrowing my clothes. I grew so much and so fast in my preteen years that my parents always bought me a size bigger… just in case. It’s funny how this “growth” is not localized to our bodies. A lot of things keep growing in this world – incomes, aspirations, appetites, and especially for India, population!

As a country gets bigger, so does its aspiration. The rising middle class now wants to vacation abroad, try exotic cuisines, and fly higher! So, the arrival of the world’s largest commercial aircraft in India was a logical progression. What we did not expect though was that the Lufthansa A380 would not only be the largest but also one of the finest!

Picture Courtesy: a380.lufthansa.com/TAKEPART/#/DE/EN/home

Picture Courtesy: a380.lufthansa.com/TAKEPART/#/DE/EN/home

This big birdie flew into Delhi’s IGI airport last month and received a landmark welcome. I predict that aviation in our country will soon be revolutionized by a wave of giant planes cruising in our skies. And this is great news because “bigger” is certainly better for Indian aviation! This will be a slightly long post, so fasten your seatbelts as I take you on a vicarious flight aboard the #LufthansaA380! But first, watch this timelapse video of the “green giant”:-

The biggest bird in our sky is a blessing that has finally been bestowed upon us frequent fliers. Here’s why we need more double-decker planes flying in and out of India:

1. Rising Population

With over a billion people jostling for space on the Indian land, imagine what would happen if we all decided to take to the skies one fine day! And this may be hypothetical today, but in the future, as more Indians decide to fly, most of India’s residents will be airborne at any given time. So many people require multiple decks on an aircraft and a LOT of seats (not to mention, frequent flights). Lufthansa has taken one step in that direction. We need more operators to follow suit.

Picture Courtesy: a380.lufthansa.com/TAKEPART/#/DE/EN/home

Picture Courtesy: a380.lufthansa.com/TAKEPART/#/DE/EN/home

2. Rising Wealth

As our wages increase, we’re not going to put up with the cheap experiences that come with cheap flights. We’ll need our champagne and shawarmas when we make that expensive honeymoon trip to the Bahamas. This is why it is heartening to see the easy-on-the-eye beige interiors of the Lufthansa A380’s First Class. You can actually sleep on a fully flat bed under warm blankets with your privacy-partition up. After all, you need to look like a million bucks on your million-buck vacation!

Picture Courtesy: a380.lufthansa.com/TAKEPART/#/DE/EN/home

Picture Courtesy: a380.lufthansa.com/TAKEPART/#/DE/EN/home

3. Rising Stinginess

Yes, you read that right! We have become very stingy after we started making so much money. We suddenly don’t want to waste our hard earned green bills on things that hurt the environment and rob us of our natural resources. We buy energy-efficient LED lights, install motion detecting bath fixtures and only buy cars that run 20 kilometres per litre. Good thing the A380 has four turbofan engines which bring down the fuel consumption per passenger. The 3-metre diameter is quite impressive too!

Picture Courtesy: a380.lufthansa.com/TAKEPART/#/DE/EN/home

Picture Courtesy: a380.lufthansa.com/TAKEPART/#/DE/EN/home

4. Rising Love for Shiny Things

Everybody knows that every Indian family worth its salt will buy gold before they buy life insurance. This love is not restricted to the yellow metal. We now also love shiny steel parts of Harley Davidsons, shiny diamonds studded on shiny platinum jewellery, and shiny new shoes. It’s interesting to know that the Lufthansa A380 has a shiny body because of a transparent protective coat over one layer of colour. This high tech paint keeps the plane working in -60 degrees Celsius and +60 with equal ease.

5. Rising Interest in Weight-Loss

We are so busy working off our flab at the gym that we hardly noticed the A380’s single-paint design. That saves so much weight and ultimately, kerosene. (Fuel efficiency is inversely proportional to weight.) This plane is not called the “green giant” for nothing! It is giant, but surprisingly light!

6. Rising Sizes (despite that “thing” for weight loss 😛 )

The great Indian feasts ensure that all our plans of shedding those extra kilos are tossed out of the window. We have our big waists and tired feet flapping all over the place. This is why the A380 has more legroom (even for Economy), and a nice footrest in the Business Class.

Picture Courtesy: a380.lufthansa.com/TAKEPART/#/DE/EN/home

Picture Courtesy: a380.lufthansa.com/TAKEPART/#/DE/EN/home

7. Rising Tech-Savviness

With the number of tech-wizards that India is churning out every year, it’s easy to see how tech savvy our nation is set to become.  The green giant is sure to impress this group of people with its tail-camera that relays live video (on to the in-flight entertainment screens) of the sky and the view around. This camera was initially installed for the pilot’s benefit, but looks like we’ll all reap some.

8. Rising Obsession over Meditation

The concept and art of meditation was developed in India many years ago. It is in fashion again now, thanks to the world-citizens who have been popularizing this art in several countries. So when you are on that long haul flight, you wouldn’t have to miss your Yoga practice, thanks to the quiet interiors of the plane. If you wish to go further, you can also change into your Yoga-clothes and stash your travel-clothes in your personal wardrobe (first class only).

Picture Courtesy: a380.lufthansa.com/TAKEPART/#/DE/EN/home

Picture Courtesy: a380.lufthansa.com/TAKEPART/#/DE/EN/home

9. Rising Urgency to “Take a Leak” 😛

I don’t think I need to mention how many Indians without toilets have to trek miles to relieve themselves. While these are not the same people who fly high today, they will someday. It’s good to have nice washrooms aboard the Lufthansa A380, so you don’t have to avoid eating or drinking when you’re up in the air. You will forget you’re on a plane when you see the lavish fittings and spacious wash cabin for the first class.

Picture Courtesy: a380.lufthansa.com/TAKEPART/#/DE/EN/home

Picture Courtesy: a380.lufthansa.com/TAKEPART/#/DE/EN/home

Now you know why we need BIGGER and smarter things to carry us around! You will certainly agree that ‘bigger is better’ for the Indian aviation industry, won’t you?

Sonu Sood’s Travel Secrets

Dear readers, because you have been such wonderful followers of my travel blog, I have a surprise for you! After a bit of lobbying, I finally got hold of one of the hunkiest men in Bollywood – Sonu Sood!!! 🙂

Sonu Sood agrees to share his secrets with me

Sonu Sood agrees to share his secrets with me

Despite his fame and prosperity, Sonu has kept his feet firmly on the ground. His disarming, warm demeanor told me I was going to have a great afternoon with him. Before I give you details of our tete-a-tete, let me tell how far he has come from his peaceful existence in Chandigarh to the big city life of Mumbai.

Sonu had  a simple upbringing and was very close to his mother. He studied Engineering, but realized early on that his real passion lay in acting. He was a successful model for a few years before he turned into an actor. His journey was not easy. He did not have a godfather in the film industry. He made his way through the labyrinthine paths of Bollywood solely through his hard work and perseverance.

When he first told his mum that he wanted to leave his home city of Chandigarh to build his acting career in Mumbai, he was pleased to have her support. She told him to keep trying and have patience as he went along. For an entire year that he was in Mumbai, he got no work, and Bollywood seemed like a distant dream. But he did not lose his spirit. He went down South and acted in several Tamil and Telugu movies before breaking into Bollywood.

Sonu in Dabangg (Pic courtesy: movies.ndtv.com)

Sonu in Dabangg (Pic courtesy: movies.ndtv.com)

Fascinated by his journey, I asked Sonu if he likes to travel. And he does! Unfortunately, he does not get much time for sightseeing, but he thoroughly enjoys shooting for his movies in new locales. As he spoke, my eyes drifted to his impressive biceps. I couldn’t stop myself from asking how he keeps fit during his travels and with his busy schedules.

Sonu revealed his top fitness secret to me – he keeps aside 2 hours every day for workouts. His normal day consists of 22 hours. He does not let anything eat into those 2 precious fitness-hours. He keeps all excuses at bay and even after a hectic day, trains at 2:00 or 3:00 in the night! His trainer, who had accompanied him, nodded when I looked at his direction.

I was curious to know when Sonu started building his body. He told me that he was into six-packs right from his college days. He would exercise regularly while juggling with his strenuous Engineering curriculum. He also revealed that he does not make muscles only for special movie sequences. Fitness is part of his lifestyle. This means, you will never catch him in bad shape!

The Bollywood heartthrob opens up to me

The Bollywood heartthrob opens up to me

They say, the quickest way to judge a man is by his shoes. Sonu’s shoes speak volumes of his active way of living and love for travel. Only a man who loves the outdoors would wear tough shoes with good grip!

New places take you closer to new cuisines… We got talking about food. Sonu’s favourite dish is the Punjabi aloo-paratha. He was born in Ludhiana, brought up in Chandigarh, and has been living in Mumbai ever since. But the Punjabi taste has remained with him. He confided in me how in his younger days he would eat loaves of bread and a brick of butter! Nobody told him back then that fats and carbs cannot be eaten beyond a certain percentage if you wish to have washboard abs.

Interestingly, Sonu is vegetarian. And he gets brownie points from me for being one! 🙂 He has never tasted non-veg in his entire life. He is not against eating meat though. He agrees that non-veg is a great source of proteins. But veg food is no less of a protein-provider! Sonu Sood’s awe-inspiring body is enough to silence all naysayers.

Sonu in Happy New Year (Pic courtesy: bollywoodhaberleri.com)

Sonu in Happy New Year (Pic courtesy: bollywoodhaberleri.com)

Sonu plays another attractive character – Jag in Happy New Year. He did a lot of travelling across the world to shoot for this movie. He does his own packing for his trips and kind of hates it. But he loves the excitement of going to a new place. I asked him how he sticks to his diet when he’s up in the air. Because of his stature, he has access to food exclusively prepared for him. He always asks the airhostesses to get him salads. But there are times when he cannot be strict with his food-intake.

Especially when you have co-stars like Shah Rukh and Deepika egging you to eat more! Both Deepika and Shah Rukh love to eat, and when you’re travelling with them, you are bound to be mollycoddled into stuffing yourself! Sonu gives in to rich food once in a while, but he makes sure he never eats junk food.

‘Only dieting and working out can’t give you energy’, I wondered. I asked Sonu how he relaxed so he could give his best performance every day. He has to have some trick for resting if he gyms in the dead of the night! I was in for a surprise. This active actor gets barely 4 to 6 hours of sleep a day! He unwinds by taking some time off from work to talk to people like me. 🙂

The beautiful afternoon comes to an end

The beautiful afternoon comes to an end

I had the best afternoon all month yesterday. Sonu was very generous with his time and words, and even told me I have a beautiful smile. (I gripped my armrest to stop myself from fainting at the compliment.) I wish Sonu a lovely career and life ahead. May he visit newer shores and entertain more people!

*  *  *

If you are a celebrity (or PR Manager for one) who likes to travel, get in touch with me for an exclusive interview and full-post feature on my blog.

Oindrila on the Road

9 Oct, 2:30 PM

 

I locked my office computer, grabbed my backpack and oversized handbag, and rushed out of office. The boring life of an IT professional in a posh Mumbai suburb was not for me. I undid my corporate bun and let my hair down at the Bandra Terminus railway station. Things would change now… at least for the extended weekend.

 

9 Oct, 8:30 PM

 

I enjoyed breathtaking panoramic views of the Western Ghats all evening while the coffee on my side table grew cold. The drab cream colored walls of my workplace had made me forget how green the meadows could be. The carpeted floors kept from me the wonders of the humongous mountains. The cityscape I stared at from the French windows was nothing like the vast fields of paddy that lay beyond the rail tracks. ‘Why have I been wasting my life in a 9-to-5’, I asked myself. The taste of the deep fried samosas were still fresh in my mouth when the train steward offered me dinner.

 

I couldn’t remember the last time I had relished wheat-puris (fluffy Indian bread) and aloo bhaji (spicy potato dish) with the sun setting at my window. While I was daydreaming of the new land I would reach next morning, sleep spread its arms wide open and engulfed me for the rest of the night.

 

10 Oct, 10 AM

 

I was wide awake at the cold Nizamuddin railway station in Delhi, planning my next stop. I was chilled to the bone and they told me winter had only just begun. Minutes later, I stopped by at a café and said hi to another backpacker like me. Delhi is friendly. Not the monster of a place the newspapers tell me it is. I washed down the waffles with a mug of mochaccino and set off for Lodhi Gardens.

IMG_20141010_113701

I noticed as I walked along the way… Delhi is so different from Mumbai. Two cities, both cosmopolitan and capitals in their own rights, yet poles apart in their culture and organization. Delhi isn’t chaotic. Empty, wide roads replace the crowded by lanes of Tinseltown. I had many more places to see in the capital city of India, but my heart knew I enjoyed the roads more than the tourist spots.

IMG_20141010_113807

The roads, for me, are the best place to be. They hold the promise of a destination, the suspense of a thriller. They give me a reason to wake up and go on… not in search of a new place, but on a quest to rediscover myself… every single day.

Reigniting Indo-Russo Friendship

Russia and India have shown cultural interest in each other since the time of Nicholas Roerich. If we look at our recent past, we will recall ‘Days of Russian/Indian Culture’, ‘Days of Delhi in Moscow’ and ‘Year of Russia/India in India/Russia’- some fine examples of bi-lateral exchange of thoughts and culture. The initiatives, albeit promising in their intent, struggle to increase penetration among the Russian and Indian people. Events like film-screening and lectures stay confined within the embassies/consulates, RCSC and language-schools. To truly reach out to the masses, we’ll need to improvise and adopt novel measures.

Photo Credit: http://www.commoditytrademantra.com/india/russia-india-begin-negotiations-to-use-national-currencies-bypassing-dollar/

Photo Credit: commoditytrademantra.com

Russian, as a language, can be introduced in Indian middle schools as an elective subject. A similar approach can be taken for Hindi (and other Indian languages) in Russia. Exposing young students to the Cyrillic script will ensure better retention and acceptance of the many Slavic tongues.

The silver screen and the television can also play a major role in forging stronger cultural ties between the two countries. India and Russia need to put concerted efforts to make movies, short-films and documentaries from either country readily available in the other (preferably with subtitles and/or translations). New films are frequently sought by today’s multiplex-generation in India, and this initiative will reach a wider audience. Soaps, sitcoms and talk-shows featuring Russia and India can be aired on popular TV-channels and can be used effectively to dispel myths about each other’s culture. A dedicated channel for Russian-language-shows in India (and likewise for Hindi in Russia) is another option the two countries can look at.

With both Russia and India having multifarious cuisines to their credit, there’s plenty to be explored in the culinary sphere. Indo-Russian food festivals can be organized in collaboration with master-chefs (who specialize in the said cuisines) and star-hotels. India is yet to see any Russian restaurant of note, despite the abundance of well-heeled diners whose palates are opening up to (and wholeheartedly embracing) world cuisine. Foodies in India will only be delighted to sample the treasure-trove of foods and drinks that Russia has to offer – from teas, soups and mains to pirozhki, desserts and alcohol. Awareness of Russo beverages in India is mostly limited to vodka, with very few being informed of Medovukha, kvass and other delicious thirst-quenchers. Contrariwise, the plethora of India dishes, desserts and drinks could do with some popularizing amidst Russians.

Photo Credit: http://www.moscowtopnews.com/?area=postView&id=1469

Photo Credit: moscowtopnews.com

Sports is another arena where India has much to learn from its counterpart. Collaboration, especially in the fields of tennis, ice-skating, hockey and track-sports, will benefit both the countries. This will also open up avenues for sportsmen and coaches to travel to each other’s cities and exchange knowledge and networks. Russia can also take advantage of the unique climatic conditions in India that allow us to play many sports which may not be possible in the Russian climes. Cricket – a favourite with Indians can gain traction in Russia and help erase the negative connotations that were associated with the game during the Communist Revolution. Similarly, Indian sports-enthusiasts can profit from the exposure to winter sports that Indian weather cannot afford.

India and Russia are both lands of many dances and genres of music. Dance and music conclaves will not only entertain public but also showcase the art forms that each country prides itself for. Circle-dances and partner dances also forge a sense of community and kinship among dancers. Both the countries have a rich heritage of folk and classical music, and have now welcomed and adapted to contemporary pop and rock styles. Dialogue and exchange in this space will prove rewarding for performers, instructors and students alike.

Photo Credit: http://www.wanderinglizard.com/Alaska/sitka/russiandance.html

Photo Credit: wanderinglizard.com

One cannot ignore literature when one talks of cultural exchange between Russia and India. Pushkin and Tagore took their local writing styles to the world, and then followed a slew of writers and poets who satiated their countrymen’s hunger for literary works. Their legacy must continue with Indian and Russian books being translated and made available in both the countries. Yearly literature-festivals that bring together writers, poets, critics, media and readers from Russia and India, will establish strong cultural ties amongst bibliophiles.

Tourism is a magical platform that can unite all the aforementioned domains and foster goodwill and warmth between India and Russia. Experiential sight-seeing which encompasses volunteer-tourism, social-work, student-exchange programs and also medical tourism can enable tourists, patients, students and volunteers to learn, heal, help and contribute at the same time. Travel-blogger conclaves, trade and technology fairs, and the introduction of a special Indo-Russian-cultural train (on the lines of Science Express and Sanskriti Express) can function as effective catalysts in brokering cultural cooperation between Russia and India.

“Our long-standing friendship needs just a little bit of spice

(and maybe some vodka) to take it to newer heights!”