Visiting the Wagah Border from Amritsar, India

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I was in Amritsar in January 2018 with my cousin, and while researching the many activities that we wanted to undertake, visiting the Wagah Border and witnessing the flag ceremony between India and Pakistan was something she definitely wanted to do, and I thought, ‘Well why not?’. While hunting around for the best way to get there, I found Jugaadus. When I first mentioned this name to my cousin, she broke out into peals of laughter. So, the word ‘jugaad‘ means, very roughly, doing something very cleverly, or just thinking out-of-the-box. And the person who does this jugaad, is a jugaadu. I think.

Anyway, we booked the tour through Jugaadus, which is a hostel, and this is just one of the many tours it organises for its guests as well as for the general public.

When we got to the hostel, we waited in the clean central living room and then six of us piled into a vehicle with the driver (Vicky) to head towards the border. Once we arrived as far as we are allowed to go with a vehicle (it takes about an hour to drive), we left the car at the parking area, and off we went on foot. That took about 20-30 minutes max – of course this depends on how fast you walk. Once we arrived at the gate, there’s a massive sign that proclaimed “INDIA”. OK, got it. Then it was time for the security checkpoints. My advice: do not carry your bag with you. They won’t let it through especially if it has things like portable battery packs and so on. I had my phone and wallet in my hand and that was it. There’s a separate line to get through for Indians and non-Indians – the latter will have to carry your passport to make it in. I hadn’t carried mine but as Vicky said to me, “your face is your passport”. Haha.

Inside, the division continued. I found – through my own experience and then watching people who followed – that once you walk in, guards will usher you to the dustier, crowded side of the arena if you’re Indian. If you’re not, you get sent to the “VIP” section. Or if you’re Indian and rich/important/kick up a fuss, we saw those get through to the ‘fancy’ section too.

Once you find a seat, be prepared to wait for a bit. Hopefully you’ll have company, like I did, because you can get bored.

Before the actual drill, people are invited to come down to the arena and take part in a few interactive sessions like passing the flag along, and there’s a bit of dancing to the tune of Bollywood numbers, a lot chosen carefully to incite a sense of patriotism amongst the crowd I imagine. On that note, there’s a man with a megaphone screaming out chants and trying to get everyone to join in, and it feels like a competition with the other side on who’s cheering the loudest.

The arena filled up eventually, and then the soldiers came out. The military drill was dance-like with exaggerated movements, stomping and so on, with both the Indian and Pakistani soldiers on either side of the now-open gate mirroring movements. There’s a quick handshake at the crescendo, before the gates slam shut.

I had, in the run-up to researching this visit, read a few accounts where authors had slightly unpleasant experiences but I, luckily, didn’t encounter any.

Would I recommend it? Sure, only in that I don’t know of many borders that have such elaborate shows, and it’s one of those things you should check out if you can.

To book the Wagah Border tour with Jugaadus, click here.

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Travel tips: New York

Travel tips: New York

I visited New York, Boston and Washington DC for the first time through March-April 2016, and here’s a few things I picked up during my two weeks there – if you haven’t been before, hopefully this might help!

Before I forget: if you’re interested in purchasing a mobile SIM while you’re there, I bought a T-Mobile SIM card with a data plan included for $43.

In general, travelling in New York is quite easy because of the subway station and the ability to walk or use an Uber, which is quite affordable. Plus, if you’re in Manhattan, your life is made easier by the grid system – you’ll always know where you are!

The subway system was great, and I used Google Maps for most part to map my journeys. Buying a week subway pass costs $32, and you can purchase these either on a manned counter or one of the kiosks. Pay attention to weekend service announcements for subway lines; they do change a bit, so you should keep a perked ear out for alternative methods of transport.

Always figure out whether you can walk, it might actually be faster.

I arrived at JFK airport, and from there wanted to get to West 30th. You can, for this journey, take the subway, but if you’re not keen on trying a new mode of public transport with luggage… I used a shuttle bus service called NYC Airporter. PSA: They don’t give you change at the counter, you have to pay by card. I paid $17 and got off at Penn Station. Anyway, at general traffic levels, this should take about 1-1.5 hours. It took me approximately that amount of time; it was pretty comfortable. I just relaxed and peered out the window until I arrived at Penn Station, then walked it up 10 minutes to where I needed to go. If you do need to take the train though, you’ll want to get on the AirTrain JFK Red to Jamaica, and then transfer to another line.

I mentioned Uber at the beginning of this post. Just to give you an idea of how much it costs there – we mostly used UberX and UberPool – journeying from W 48th to W 30th (approx 2.22km) with an UberX cost $9.39 with tax.

And if you’re heading from New York to Boston at any point and don’t want to take a flight, I used LimoLiner, which I found quite convenient. I paid $99 and got picked up at the Midtown Hilton on 53rd street at 6th Ave. I settled down, had some food and drink…and there was even a movie. A comfortable ride, it took about 4 hours to get to Boston Back Bay. The bus drops you off at 39 Dalton Street, which is in front of the Sheraton Back Bay and across from the Hilton Hotel Back Bay.

BONUS TIPS: In Boston, if you’re sticking to public transport, just FYI you can get a “Charlie Card” or a “Charlie ticket” at most stations and use the tram system, which is pretty efficient. And one more: in Washington DC, I mostly used Uber, and when I did use the metro, I purchased a “SmarTrip” card at the vending machine at one of the stations.

Do you have any travel tips for either New York, Boston, or Washington DC? Let me know – I’m hoping to go back for another visit!

Travel around Chicago without technology

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In this technological age, is it possible to roam a completely new and alien city without access to the internet or phone, or with maps?

Yes.

As I stood inside Grand Union Station, Chicago, watching my carefully laid plans crash and tumble all around me, I knew I was in trouble. I had carefully planned out routes from there to various spots around the city and had printed those maps out for myself. But a series of unfortunate circumstances led to all those plans becoming null and void.

Another problem: even with a smartphone and an iPad I was lost. I didn’t want to use roaming on my phone, and did not have access to a US number. In short, I was bereft of a phone and the internet. Even though I had some money on my phone to call Dubai, who was going to navigate me around Chicago?!

Even though my maps were useless, the addresses on it were correct. I couldn’t take any of the buses I’d so carefully written down because the departure and arrival points in the city had changed completely for me.

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After losing my way to the famous Giordano’s but finding it and stuffing my face, I headed over to a bus stop near the Union Station. I figured out from the map stuck there how to get to John Hancock Center and hopped on. The bus driver (a very large female) hit my stereotype of being rude – I didn’t know how much the fare was when I was getting on the bus (A single fare is $2.25 if you must know) and I couldn’t figure out the coins so I took an absurdly long amount of time to fish out the change from my wallet. I confirmed the bus would go where I wanted it to and that was it. I sat down and let the adventure begin!

Watching the sights from the window was a lot of fun. I’m certain I looked like a wide-eyed tourist, so I tried to tone down my out-of-town look. I remember passing a café called Atwood Café and writing down what was written on the sign outside: “We refuse to grow old gracefully, please pardon our appearance while we get some ‘work’ done.” Love it!

Once I reached the correct bus stop, I hopped off and walked towards the John Hancock Center (this was easy – it’s a really tall building…can’t miss it ;)).

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Went in and had a lovely time upstairs; took loads of photographs, and listened to the audio guide about the buildings around me. When that audio guide started, I could swear it was David Schwimmer (who played Ross Geller in FRIENDS)…then later on I Googled it and realized I was right! Woohoo.

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Visitors get to go up to the 96th floor (with a recording playing in the elevator every time you go up or down) to see a panoramic view of the city. There’s a lounge there to relax and eat if you want to, along with a souvenir shop (where I bought my Chicago fridge magnets). I was there during the day; I can only imagine how absolutely gorgeous it also looks at night with the city lights around around. I took the general admission pass for $15, but there are other options you can look into.

 

Images from the 96th floor:

 

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After that, I went to The Cheesecake Factory, conveniently located at the base of the building, where I went to cheesecake heaven. Cannot wait for it to open up in Dubai soon!

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This is the part where I got a bit lost. I wanted to go to the Navy Pier and take an architectural boat tour but I had no idea how to get there from where I was. Remember, there was no internet, no phone, nothing. Just me and the big windy city. I asked the attendant at the John Hancock Center and she told me where I could go to get a bus to the Navy Pier. Okay. I managed to get lost nevertheless and after wandering around random streets off the Magnificent Mile for 10 minutes, I entered Hershey’s Chocolates (822 North Michigan Avenue) and said I needed some help.

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Boy, did I get help. A slim girl with braided hair with the energy of many people packed into one, Kierra, came outside the store with me. I explained where I wanted to go and she took me near the bus stop, told me which bus number I needed (Pretty sure it was number 66), and explained to me what I needed to tell the bus driver (“Make sure it’s going to Navy Pier! Ask him ya hear?”) She was so wonderfully friendly; told me to take care of myself and be careful (I think she figured I was a babe lost in the woods). Thank you Kierra…you made me smile and I still remember your help and concern with great fondness.

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Finally reached Navy Pier…and missed the architecture boat tour by 15 minutes. The next one was at 4:45pm and would be back only at 5:45pm. I didn’t know what traffic was like from Navy Pier back to the Union Station – my train to the airport was at 7pm and I was too afraid to take the chance that the boat might be back late, or there would be traffic. In addition, I had to pick up my luggage from the station locker first, and had no idea which platform the train would leave from so I wanted to get back for 6:30pm at least. Too many variables, too many ifs and buts. Instead, I walked down the Navy Pier till the end and it was absolutely gorgeous. You could see the skyline of Chicago from there. There were shops and rides for entertainment. Loads of boat tour companies. By the end of the pier, the wind hits you something fierce. Till then I hadn’t bothered wearing a jacket but when I got to the end, it became really cold and in-my-face.

 

Pics from Navy Pier: 

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Once I was done, I headed back to the bus terminal just off Navy Pier, asked someone which bus goes to the train station and hopped in. By this time I was a bus fare expert… $2.25 ka-ching! The road back was equally fun. Passed the NBC building and saw their store downstairs with Dunder Mifflin merchandise among other things. Was extremely tempted to buy them, but decided to stay on the bus to get to the station.

IMAGES: A Borders store emptying out | Random street | Dunder Mifflin at NBC | Sticky Fingers Gourmet Popcorn

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And naturally, things had to go wrong! The train was delayed by about 30-45 minutes…I waited on the cold bench near the platform where the train was supposed to arrive and people-watched. Women on heels too tall for anyone’s feet to survive. A young man wearing shiny silver leather latex-y looking trousers, uggs and orange socks. Young Indian students. Businessmen with their official looking bags and more. A woman wearing block platforms clunking instead of running her way across the floor. So much to see.

The ticket from the Union Station to the O’Hare airport was $4 one-way (North-Central service, Metra Rail) and once you get off at the airport station, there’s a shuttle bus to take you to another point where you take a metro train to the terminal. Once I finally got there after all the delays, I met this lovely guy at the metro train area who asked me where I was from. I said Dubai. He asked if they were all islands. I said no that’s just The World and the Palms. Then he was asking me about the weather and his eyes popped out when I said summer highs are near 50C, and winter it’s about 20ish usually.

At the end of it, I safely reached O’Hare airport and got online after over 12 hours of no real contact with anyone whatsoever.

And you know what? I survived.

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Our big boy loves big cars

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Mom’s old car was sold 10-12 days ago. A new one came less than a week back. Rather than get upset with the change, he absolutely adored the new car. It’s big, spacious and high enough for him to peer out the window when we’re cruising on the hot Dubai roads, just like the previous car we had. I was informed that when they went car hunting, he got into this car at the showroom happily, but refused to clamber into a smaller car. He’s a space junkie for sure.

When he got into the car, he couldn’t stop grinning, and laughing a bit towards the end of his first drive in the new car. Just seeing the happiness and excitement on his face made our day.

The One with the Taxi: Karan’s Big Adventure Part 4

Guest post by Adita Divecha, Karan’s mother

Once we had to go to Madhavi’s (Rajiv’s sister) place by cab since the car wasnt available. So we we left our house and went downstairs to get a cab. Luckily, there’s always a long line of Fiat taxis – the black and yellow ones – just below our house. We, ie myself, Karan and Rajiv, hailed a cab.

The thing with these taxis is that the doors don’t open all the way. I told Karan to get into the taxi, but he refused. He kept staring at the taxi for a while. Then he put his head in and looked at the seat and then he came out again. It was quite comical. Then he stood there looking at me with a frown on his face. Rajiv kept telling him, “Go inside” but he refused and kept doing the same thing around 3-4 times.

Then he slowly put one leg in and then brought it back out. Finally I got into the taxi and told him to come in. I said, “Come in, see Mummy is also sitting here”. Still he refused. Then I showed him his koosh ball (which he likes)…and he finally got into the taxi. Then Rajiv sat in the front passenger seat.

Karan was staring at the taxi driver. The taxi driver was, in turn, staring at us wondering what was going on, wondering why such a grown-up looking boy wasn’t getting into the taxi. Karan was constantly making the sounds “AAH! AAH! AAAH!” and held on to my hand tightly, with a look that felt as though he was wondering where his mother was taking him. When the taxi reached its destination, Rajiv opened the door and Karan couldn’t get out of the taxi fast enough.

We didn’t sit in a taxi again.

Clearly my son was born in a 4WD (he’s recently been refusing to get into any other kind of car, and if he does, with some hesitation).

Backtrack to: The One with the Flight (Part 1), The One Where Karan Goes to a Dentist and Pets a Dog (Part 2) and The One with the Road Trip (Part 3).

Autistic children get trial run for air travel

I think this is a brilliant initiative, and I urge authorities in the UAE to look into the same.

 

PHILADELPHIA – At 8 p.m. on a recent Saturday, Southwest Airlines Flight 2149 was poised to push back from the gate. Flight attendants gave fasten-seat belt instructions, and First Officer Peter Hayes announced, “There’s 25 minutes of flight time until we touch down in Philadelphia.” Capt. Todd Siems said the Boeing airliner was cruising at 37,000 feet. And after he turned off the seat belt sign, the young passengers were served complimentary Sprite, cranberry apple juice and airplane-shaped crackers.

Flight 2149 never left the gate at Philadelphia International Airport, though. It was a practice exercise for children with autism and their families to become familiar with air travel – carrying bags, getting boarding passes, going through security, waiting at the gate and sitting on the plane.

“I’m going to China, but we won’t really,” said an imaginative Gena Catanese, 5, of North Wales, Pa., accompanied by her parents and sisters Isabella, 6, and Emma, 3.

Just 18 months ago, Gena had a traumatic travel experience on vacation in Orlando. She expected to pre-board the plane with her family, but the protocol was she could pre-board only with one parent.

Gena became agitated and “over-stimulated,” her mother, Melanie Catanese, said. “There was no way she was able to fly home that day.” After receiving a frantic call, Gena’s pediatrician, Wendy Ross at Albert Einstein Medical Center, phoned and faxed letters to the Orlando airport.

“I thought, ‘This can never happen to one of my families again,’ ” Ross said. She contacted Philadelphia airport and Rick Dempsey, head of the airport’s Americans With Disabilities Act review committee.

“She wanted to bring a simulated airport experience for children with autism and their families,” Dempsey recalled. “The committee thought it was a great idea. The TSA bought into it. We even got an airline, Southwest, to buy into the idea.” Since then, there have been three “mock” flights.

“We asked the crews if they would mind sticking around for 30 to 40 minutes and go through a mock turnaround on a flight, as if we were flying somewhere,” said John Minor, Southwest’s local station manager.

“We let them know that autistic children are very literal, so we don’t want to say, ‘We’re flying to Disneyland,’ ” Minor said. “We just say, ‘This is a test run.’ ” Frontier Airlines plans to host a simulated flight for autistic children Dec. 11, and US Airways Group has one planned for January. British Airways also has expressed interest, Dempsey said.

In the spring, Ross trained 130 airport and airline employees about autism, a condition diagnosed in one in 100 children annually.

“It’s not something you outgrow, but if you get really good therapy you can cope better, compensate better,” Ross said.

Philadelphia Inquirer

 

 

Karan’s big adventure – Part 1

Guest post by Adita Divecha, Karan’s mother

Both Karan and I have not been out of Dubai for the past eight years. Sometimes because I did not want to go and sometimes because there was no one to travel with me as I felt it was a bit difficult travelling with Karan alone. Most of the time our relatives would come to Dubai to meet us. This year we finally decided to go to Mumbai for the Christmas and New Year holidays as my husband Rajiv was there with us. I had been talking to Karan about the trip for many days so as to get him prepared for it. I dont know if it registered in his mind as there was no response from him but I like to think that it did.

The day finally dawned and we left for the airport. He was very calm and walked through all the checks and we were finally sitting in the business class lounge. He refused to eat anything there and as the time to departure came closer, Rajiv took him to the toilet. It is impossible for me to take Karan to the ladies toilet now as he towers over me. He is 172 cms tall and I am just 155 cms. And he cannot be sent to the toilet alone so I have to have a male presence with me. Anyway, the departure gate for our flight was very far from the lounge and when we mentioned that Karan was autistic and might get upset because of the crowd and the long walk, the Emirates airline ground staff arranged a buggy to drive us there. This was really excellent but Karan refused to get into the buggy. When we tried to push him in he started jumping up and down and screaming at the top of his voice. We got many stares by the people around us: some amazed, some compassionate and some disgusted….something I am very used to. It does not bother me anymore. Finally, I got into the buggy and held out his favourite koosh ball and after hesitating a few times he got in and then Rajiv got in after him so that Karan could not jump out again. Karan was ok after that and we finally boarded the flight.

Karan was very good throughout the flight. He sat between Rajiv and me and kept playing with his ball. Only while taking off and landing, he held my hand tightly as the noise was deafening and I guess he was frightened as he had his scared-deer look on his face. I had made sandwiches for him incase he would not eat anything on the flight but the main course for lunch was his favourite tandoori grilled chicken. So he enjoyed eating that and did not want to eat the sandwiches. But he refused to enter the toilet on the plane. I guess this was because it was too tiny and looked different from what he is used to. He went to the toilet only after we landed at Mumbai airport.

However by this time he was very exhausted and the noise of the people around him had started to irritate him and he started his whining and crying.We did not have to wait a long time for the luggage which came quickly. The customs officer took one look at Karan crying and stomping his feet and just waved us through which was a blessing. Karan calmed down once we were sitting in the car on our way home with his favourite songs playing on my phone.

All in all, the journey was quite good but i dont know how he will be able to cope if the flight is a longer one. Anyway, this was a good start and I hope it will get better and better.

Devina: I’m quite excited that Karan is on this trip…I think it shows how much he’s progressed over the years. I don’t think he would’ve handled it this well a few years ago. I’m so proud of you Karan!!!

29 countries, 15 years and two interviews

I was lucky to be an editorial intern at INK Publishing during the coming together of the November 2010 issue of easyJet’s inflight magazine, Traveller.

I was able to interview Freeride World Champion Aurelien Ducroz and Grammy award winning producer, musician and DJ Paul Van Dyk and write their stories up.

In addition, I compiled the nibs for the icons on the cover of this issue. That was actually loads of fun simply because I got to learn so many new things about landmarks and places I never knew before.

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Enjoy reading!

 

The Twitchhiker – an interview with @paul_a_smith

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The way I got this story was interesting and a lot of fun.

I’m on Twitter (a lot) and someone on my timeline retweeted a story about a man who used Twitter to travel across continents. I was immediately intrigued. In Transit needed an interview or first-person account for its Travel section and this would be perfect, I thought.

A little research led me to Paul Smith and I sent across an email. On a deadline, I impatiently tweeted to him as well. Twitter, how I love you. He replied to my tweet and emailed as well. I’d scored an interview!

One Skype call later I had the fascinating account of how he travelled from UK to New Zealand with the help of people on Twitter, who offered him rides, places to stay and support. Paul was terribly helpful by way of pictures as well; he directed me to his Flickr album and I had my pick of the lot (and trust me, sometimes it’s so hard to get photographs, that this was an absolute boon)!

I’m quite happy with the way the piece turned out and I enjoyed designing it as well. The map was a last-minute thing, which is why it looks a bit…rushed.

Enjoy reading and tell me what you think!

Shoot and Stay – an interview with Catalin Marin

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For the Travel section of In Transit, we decided to have a section dedicated to photographs, an interview with a photographer, an out-and-out travel piece and a piece on wacky vacations.

I remembered Catalin from Twitter (that bountiful source of information), and contacted him immediately. He was extremely helpful and agreed to talk to me. A quick interview later, I walked off with nuggets about how he got into photography, mad monkeys, Russian cowboys and so much more. The first piece I wrote for the magazine… it was fun to write it, simply because the interview went off so well and there was so much information to pick from.

My shorthand came in handy here; even though I conducted the interview on Skype, I hadn’t found a tool yet to record the call (I have one now, just in case!), so I took the entire conversation down in shorthand. Special shout-out to Kaye Carl, my shorthand teacher, who never let me give up on it.

Enjoy reading!