Insanity- Paris & San Bernardino

This is getting insane. Paris happens, San Bernardino happens and then come news clips about these few sub-humans who have performed these depraved acts sending most of us into a frenzy. While slamming your doors to people from a particular community is shameful, how about a strong regulation on the refugees coming in? Don’t let just about everyone in. Even when people come here on a somewhat dubious visa, problems still happen. Thought the visa process was a lot more stringent.
And the left screaming for gun control? Pray tell what do you mean? If only it means taking assault rifles out of the equation, I can buy that. Others, no, it just doesn’t cut it. Visa application and gun application whetting if implemented effectively may be just what we need. Saying “No” to guns and saying “no” to refugees does not appear to be a viable solution
I grew up in a small town (Bhopal) and I have not seen better harmony between people of different classes or religious beliefs.

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Peru- A journey through a magical kingdom

My journey through South America has now taken me to new lands. Having done my almost regulation trip to Chile, Peru beckoned. Excitement was all I felt as I made my way to Incaland. Funny I think, as I recall a local Peruvian later told me how people know of Machu Pichu but the mention of Peru is met with an astounding look !! I had but a week in which not only to make the best out of my trip but also to ride up to 14,000 ft to indulge in some training on a Copper concentrator my company is building in the Peruvian Andes.

For a non- South American, the appeal of Peru starts and ends with Machu Pichu, the Lost city of the Incas. That’s exactly what I did. Arriving into the historical city of Cusco (pronounced Cosco if you are an Inka) is an experience in itself. Perched at 11,000 feet you start to feel the high altitude and physically fit or not, shortness of breath is not an uncommon phenomena . Cusco is the capital of the Incas. The Inca Empire had over 9 million citizens in the 14th century. That is truly amazing. You start to get the sense of their advanced way of life and their administrative structure when you consider that magnitude. Cusco was the city that Spanish conquestadors got to , led by Fransciso Pizzaro and his band of 177 men in 1533. Machu Pichu was their second capital and was a residence for the elitists; philosophers, noblemen and a school that was an equivalent of a Brahminist society. That was however never discovered by the invaders. Cusco and all cities in the vicinity bore the brunt of the invasion. Injected with diseases unknown to the Incas, a vast majority of them perished.  What is truly amazing and awe inspiring is the the journey from Cusco to Machu Pichu. Contrary to popular belief, you actually travel downhill from Cosco. From 11,000 ft to 8,000 ft.   A 90 min car ride to Ollantaytambo, then a 100 min train ride in InkaRail to a Agua

Calientes station and then a 20 min bus ride to the top. That’s when it srikes you. The majestic fog covered mountain stares at you with the grandeur of the Inka Kingdom truly comes to light. Everything seems insignificant at the first sight of the magnificence. Then the reality and the realization of the architecture, the terraced slops for agriculture, the highly advanced solar clock, the sun temple, its all surreal. The Inka Pachakuti watches over you as you explore the area and a million camera flashes popping.  The architecture , especially the masonry by means of interlocking keys in the stones and how they have withstood the centuries is not something you would expect in that part of the world. As everyone says and agrees, “Its once in a lifetime experience” and no, it is not over rated at all, unlike the Niagara Falls, may be.

The area around Cusco which accounts for the rest of the Empire; Pisac, a city where the farmers delved. This is the place where they discovered over 5,000 Inka mummies. A city which was one of the many raided by the conquestadors still retains the original drinking water fountains. I felt like Tintin in Prisoners of the Sun. I was half expecting a Llama to spit in my face.

Cusco is the heartland of the Incas. Inca-pharma, Inca-foto, Inca-cola , its all about the Incas.

Peruvian people and food. Wonderful . That’s how I can summarize. Peruvian food with its own blend of spices would appeal so much to an Indian tongue and when accompanied by the lovely Peruvian hospitality tastes even  better.  Rest of Peru? Well from what I have seen on my way upto the mines is another impoverished third world economy. Peru with its copper and Molybdenum should find a way out of the misery of its people and progress and follow Chile’s example and you would hope they don’t go the way of their eastern neighbors.

Overcrowded urban centers in Lima, Arequipa, Trujillo and Cusco make up for probably around 60% of the population and it is uncertain if the existing infrastructure can continue to sustain this growth. Spirits of people can take some battering sometimes, but not everyday, everytime.

A trip upto the 14,000 ft mine site
had its own challenges, not least the eight hour ride in a pick up truck and the trip down was accompanied by fog, rain and several 3,000 ft drops, all that on a 100% dirt road. Challenges and opportunities do not come unattached. With every challenge you see an opportunity and that’s what the journey is all about.

The African South East- Life & times

I have been meaning to write for a few days now. Now after finally having overcome the jet lag between Australia and South Africa, its good to be alive again. Coming to South Africa although for a short stint; I see this as an opportunity to see more of the world. Additionally some experience in the Aluminium smelter business is enriching.

This country is indeed interesting. Since the end of apartheid, it seems the country has exploded into chaos. While taking a drive around the countryside, the fields and meadows resemble India in so many ways. You see people walking along the road in the middle of wilderness, stark poverty evident everywhere. While this country is not a classic 3rd world country, it is more like a two and half! We have been asked by security experts not to be complacent or travel alone. Crime is quite prevalent and Johannesburg, the largest city is pretty overwhelming for first timers.

My next door neighbour at the apartment block is a South African of Indian origin. He was telling me how his forefathers travelled across the Indian Ocean in 1861 from India to work on the sugar cane plantations outside Durban.

Working 6 days a week leaves only Sunday to explore. Last Sunday 3 of us (Myself, a Canadian, a New Zealander) managed a trip to visit a Zulu village, where the Zulus still live as did way back at the turn of the 20th century. Very interesting to see how they go about their lives (I have attached a picture of me with a Zulu chief)

Few more weekends we plan to go see a crocodile farm and go on an African safari.

Another interesting day trip:  Driving by the African savannah and entering the St Lucia estuary. This place is at the southern end of the Mozambiquan coastal plain and is classified as a World Heritage site (Inaugurated by Nelson Mandela “Madiba”) in 1995. Taking a boat on the river you can see the water is full of hippos and crocodiles. Lazing around in the sun, hanging out in water, these are abound. I was just over 200 k’s from the South African borders of Swaziland and Mozambique.

A little fact I found out that Nelson Mandela actually married the Mozambique strongman, Samora Machel’s widow. The lady has the unique distinction of being the first lady twice!

Tourism is the only industry that thrives here while locals make their livelihood on the cane and pineapple plantations. Poverty is very visible but for a person who grew up in India, its not all that shocking.

Europeans come to African not only to watch the big game but some of them have been known to indulge in game hunting. Game hunting primarily refers to hunting of the Big five (African elephant, Lion, Leaopard, Cape Buffalo and the White Rhino). Game hunting packages cost as much as $25,000 for a 12 day  trip.

While there is plenty of game to watch, I am not sure if some of the power hungry corrupt African dictators are not more dangerous. When you look north from South Africa, Zimbabwe (Mugabe) and the chronically tribal warfare infested countries of Burundi. Rwanda, Angola stand out. And with Western hired guns to add fuel to the fire, Africa continues to sustain its sobriquet of the “Dark Continent”.

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Talking to an Indian South African guy, he tells me how bad it was pre 1994 during the days of Apartheid. No right to vote, not allowed to enter white neighborhoods, running scared of the white man, eating in different sections in the same restaurant..Terrible..Wonder why they think its okay to treat a person of a darker color differently. Bloody shame!

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Just three weeks in this country and while my travels have not been extensive, the time still allows to get a fairly good perception of lifestyle and dynamics in the current South African society. I have had the opportunity to speak with several people from varying nationalities. Many non South Africans, primarily Europeans and Australians see the society and culture as backward and third- worldy. No surprises here, since over 90% of the populations consisting of native blacks and coloured were repressed for a prolonged period. Just lifting the restrictions and ending apartheid does not lead to the native development automatically. This seems like it is a process and may take a generation and a half. Meantime the economic situation amongst the previously underprivileged populace continues to worsen.

It used to an enforced segregation until 1994 and now almost two decades later, its more of a natural self segregation. So much so, that illiteracy and prevalent crimes have come to be associated with the blacks. And its conveniently forgotten that it is the minority who created this situation in the first place. This is an unfortunate stigma many South Africans will carry for the rest of their lives.

The repeatedly flashing pictures of people living in shanty towns on a bare subsistence are extremely visible throughout the country. The native folk are extremely friendly and take pride in what they do and graciously accept any kind of tips. The same is to be said of the White minority; nowhere do the common white people appear to be dictators or the despots they were made to be. The common folks have been fairly friendly to us foreigners ,I would say, more so than the Australians. So at a grass roots level, the true citizens are as integrated but cultural and economic differences do make it appear that society is stratified.

The leadership could be doing a lot more than soaking in corruption and polygamy. The basic tenet of leading by example is surely absent. The continuing paucity of power and the consequences faced by the government in terms of rioters and power line tappers does not look to be improving anytime soon. The presence of hired guns like ourselves is noticeable in almost all industries. Power, Aluminium smelting and other such core industries have a plethora of expatriate experts while the local talent is almost invisible.  These expatriates could do a lot better by actually training the locals rather than earning a few quick rands and complaining about the lack of initiative on part of the local populace. The leadership may well treat this as a chronic problem and these issue be addressed before South Africa goes the way of its other fellow African nations.

The visit to the Umfolozi game reserve would be considered as a once in a lifetime opportunity. The massive 500 hectare wild life reserve opened up in 1895 to create a reserve for the great white southern Rhinoceros. The white hunters had been shooting them for game for several years and it took them a few years to realize the fun and games will cause the white rhinos to be extinct. This necessitated opening of the game reserve; subsequently followed by introduction of major wild life into the park. And one thing that surprised me immensely was the fact that the animals are not fed. They are in open country and are wild animals, pure and simple. Therefore they have to hunt their own food and survive the jungle and be part of the food chain.

Seeing these glorious animals in their natural splendour is an unbeatable sight, unparalled in its grace and memory. Soaking up the knowledge and nuances of many of animal behaviours was an added bonus.

We were fortunate enough to view the Elephant, the White Rhino, the Cape Buffalo, Giraffes, antelopes and zebras at close proximity.

Cold War -II?

Is this where we’re headed or are we already there?  I grew up during the Cold War, an “on-the-brink” war climate and did not fully realize how scary it was in the 70’s and 80’s. The Wall coming down in 1989 woke me up now I feel l am going back in time; well now its not the two super powers or communism that is the threat but a phantom.A phantom that strikes mankind is many ways, some in the name of religion and some on a complete randomness.

This is not a doomsday scenario but just what we regular folks feel. Ever thought of actually looking for the nearest exit when watching a movie? I do so now. This is a different world we live in.

Taking the bad guys down and if its not a cold war we are possibly living in a war zone that is not just restricted to some war theaters but it could be just anywhere we live our lives in.

Lets be humans again. Lets learn to love each other all over.’

Greece-Turkey- A stop by

The Greece and Turkey visit:
A visit to Greece may be perceived as a passage through an ancient civilization and while for most part it is, and it comes off as a journey through a land of blue skies and seas, wonderful food and some truly beautiful smiles.
All the news about Greece has been fairly negative in the last few years , the crashing of the economy and the upward spiraling of unemployment and discontent portrays a country that would be full of despair and grump. That in itself was the best surprise when in my personal experiences I found the most warm hearted of people as I have ever seen during my travels. The cabbies, the bellboys, the waiters at the local restaurants, the coach drivers, all had always something extra to offer.
This is not just painting it rosy but when you see the stark reality being a 25% unemployment and the country still coming to grips with a retirement age of 58 and supporting its senior citizens, the path ahead continues to be difficult. These problems are further compounded by illegal immigrants (just when we thought this factor affects western Europe and US more) from Pakistan and some African countries. Not sure what this section is looking for in Greece now. It was a sorry state for sure to see some of these immigrants who do not have work permits do whatever it takes to get some euros. Bad on themselves and bad for the host country.

Greece is a country with a population of 11 million people , of which 5 live in Athens, the capital. With over 500 habited islands in the Aegean and Ionian seas and the obvious plethora of artifacts and monuments, it is certainly a tourist’s paradise. And outside of gas/petrol, the prices are just unbelievable. Unbelievably cheap that is!

Athena (patron goddess of the city) looks over the city perched in the temple of Parthenon that is located on the Acropolis Hill , one of the seven hills in the city. Awe inspiring spectacle. She apparently was born from the head of her father , Zeus (King of Gods) and is a symbol of everything that is beatific. Between her and Posiedon , God of the sea and 10 others , they signify the bounties of the Golden age of Athens circa 450- 300 BC. The plundering of the gold and statues of the Parthenon, by several marauders ranging from the Romans, the Turks and the Britishers is the unfortunate aspect of this all. Even now, some original pieces from this splendorous monument lie in the museums of London. Wouldn’t it be a good gesture on part of the UL to get these back to where it belongs?

The blue seas of the azure Aegean sea is quite a temptation for those who love cruising around and as long as the right non-touristy islands are picked , you have a fair chance of actually being in the right place at the right time. Greece has had a record this summer with over 17 million tourists and this being the primary source of their revenues, it certainly looks like Greece is doing the right things to attract tourists without fleecing them and may be some of them may desire to be back.

Some inspirational stories are about the marathon race , when a foot soldier in his armor ran the distance from Marathonia to Athens (42 km/26 miles) to tell the denizens of Athens of their victory over the Persians. The legend lives on. One person who never actually stepped into Athens was Alexander the Great, the young king from Macedonia who has had so much written about him. Such is a range of great personalities and some real insights into art and architecture from a civilization that stretched from circa 8000 BC and well into the 5th century AD.

For those inclined I got a good view of the column architecture of the buildings, Doric order of the Parthenon and the Ionic Order in the temple of Posiedon and then interestingly, there was the Corinthian orders in the Hagia Sofia in Istanbul. How architecture and the styles travelled from one civilization to the other. How the artists look to one civilization and absorb and adopt certain architectural styles into their own civilizations with varying degrees of nuances. Never thought I would actually get so absorbed into something I had barely paid attention to in my college years. My civil engineering classmates may think different.

Brazil may well look into the lessons learned from Greece. With the two most prestigious events scheduled to be hosted in Brazil, the 2014 World cup soccer and the 2016 summer Olympics, is Brazil going to go overboard and then it takes an entire generation and a half to get the country back on rails? Greece looks it has had its share of some extraneous sports infrastructure and who know if they hadn’t hosted the 2004 Olympics.

And then a short hop into the mystique Istanbul, Turkey. One fact that will most certainly overwhelm anyone is the sheer population. A city that has loads of history, has two continents forming part of the city limits has over 15 million people in it. But then, you actually start to take in the sights , the chaos of the bazaars and then think of the Grand Ottoman empire. From the famous battle of Constantinople in 1453, The Ottomans, hailing from central Asia and descendants of Genghis Khan invaded the city from the Romans and then went about making it about the power nerve center of the world. Their glory is evident in most sections of the city, specifically the old Europe portion with its teeming bazaars, the grand mosques and the wonderful architecture. They probably chose the losing side in the Great War (1914-18) and that signaled the beginning of the end and that is when Ataturk took over as the father of modern Turkey.
The palaces, the mosques, the layout of this historical city make it so stand out with a character of its own. And the Turkish folks came off as a very hospitable people indeed. The flavor and character of Istanbul warms you up. With their continuing efforts to arrest the incessant traffic by means of building additional bridges and tunnels across the Bosphorus and the sea of Marmara , I hope the crowds do not become a deterrent to visitors. But the city is strong and makes Turkey proud, no doubt.
You have to get into the rug purchasing in Istanbul certainly once in a lifetime. You step into to a reputed store and it is an almost certainty you will not walk out without a rug or two. The art of salesmanship with a massive human touch is in full display here. From invoking the Ottoman Sultans to your heart , to offering the strong Turkish coffee to appealing to your culture and your ago, the salespeople make this entire rug buying experience a unique one.
Istanbul is where I truly experienced the west transitioning into the east, a hub of the world is what it seems. Remarkable is the word I would coin for this city.