Travel adventure – going overseas without wallet

This is a travel adventure of going overseas without one’s wallet and still coming out whole.

A few days ago, in December 2017, I traveled from Delhi to Seoul in South Korea. I was an invited speaker on Data Analytics at an international conference. I got dropped me off at the Delhi International airport, went through the immigration and security counters, and sat down near the flight’s departure gate. A little bored, I look around and saw my favorite snack counter close to my gate. I walked over to the store and found my favorite snacks. When I tried to pay for it, I discovered that I did not have my wallet with me. I rummaged through my pockets and then my bags but could not find it. I became a little worried that I had lost or dropped it somewhere.

A sweet and beautiful young Indian lady, from Los Angeles, was shopping in the same snack store. She heard me saying to the shopkeeper that I had lost my wallet, and was very sympathetic. She asked me how much money I needed. I said that at the very least I needed $15 for a one-way ride to the hotel in Seoul. With great effort, she managed to scrounge $15 cash from the various pockets inside her handbag. Very cheerfully she gave the money to me. God bless her. I took her phone number and will try to return the money, even though she said not to bother.

I then frantically tried to reach out to my parents in Delhi by phone. They looked around and quickly found my wallet on my bed. I was a little relieved. I realized that I was trying to remove some of the unneeded cards and cash from the wallet, and in the process I forgot to pick up the wallet. I had checked that I had the passport before I left, but did not check the wallet. My father, a retired UN diplomat, was worried how I will manage without the wallet. But I told him it will be an adventure. We both laughed, and he was relieved.  Now the correct story was that I had ‘forgotten my wallet at home’. I texted my daughter in the US to be ready to wire me money in Seoul just in case. I also texted a friend who was coming to the same conference that I may need his help.

In the plane, I tried to meditate and keep calm. I lost all fear, and became determined to find someone who would be willing to help. I was a little concerned about the currency conversion process at the airport that I may fall just a little short of the Korean currency needed to get to the airport. I looked around for who could help.

A young Korean man sitting right behind my seat. I asked him if he could convert for me $15 worth of Korean currency to pay for one-way bus ride from the airport to the city. He talked nicely with me but found it ‘unusual’ how one forgets one’s wallet at home. He said he will think about it. I also asked the Korean flight attendants for help. They said that none of them had any Korean currency, and could not help.

I wanted to ask another Indian person. I had seen an Indian family with little kids in the departure lounge right behind me. I looked for them in the plane. I saw a family sitting close to my seat. It was a different young man. He looked pretty blissful sitting there with eyes kinda closed. I approached him. He said he lived in Seattle, and had worked with Microsoft till very recently. I told him about my situation. He agreed to lend me $15. But then he said his wallet was in his bag up in the storage, and he will give me later. I came back to him with a copy of my Big Data book which had some brief description of me as an author. Finally, when we landed in Seoul, he gave me $15.

Now I was confident that I will be able to make the trip without any hassle. I had enough money to reach the city. I had friends at the conference. Hotel bill was prepaid. I did not need any additional money, as I did not need to buy anything. I had carried some home-made vegetarian food from home. I returned to Delhi from the conference safely two days later. I contacted them both my benefactors so I can return the monies. I can’t thank them enough.

I believe there are no ‘accidents’. It all happens for a reason. We don’t know how many dots get connected for some event to happen. Somehow I developed the confidence to manage an international trip without carrying my wallet. Anything is possible!!

Lessons: check your documents and wallet before you leave for a trip. Do good to others, so nature will provide support back. Both the US-based Indians whom I approached, helped; that warms my heart!!

 

 

Power of Visuals

Just a few days ago, I started a morning walk group in our town of Fairfield. The weather is getting warmer and nicer, and the days are getting longer.

First day I walked alone. I took a selfie picture in the orange morning sun glow on the trail. That picture came out looking very interesting and blissful. I shared it with many friends on WhatsApp.

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This picture was pretty motivating to others.  One called me the Martian Red Man. Another thought I looked like a Hollywood actor. Many people liked it.

Next morning one person joined me on the walk. Both of us convinced another one to join the next day. All three had so much fun laughing and discussing many things, that yet another one joined the next day. And the next day the most unexpected person joined and became the fifth member. Again next day, another person joined and became the sixth member to join.

This is the power of pictures to jump-start a group. We hope the group will continue to grow!

On Running a Marathon

I ran a marathon race 10 years ago in Austin, TX. My motivation was simply to become a more outdoors person. An athlete friend suggested we run a marathon, and so we did.

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It was an exhilarating 6-month journey. I signed up for the Austin Distance Challenge, a series of seven increasingly longer races (5k, 5M, 10K, 10M, half-marathon, 20M) culminating in the marathon (26.2miles). I selected the best local marathon coaching company, and got a fantastic coach. Over this period, I made new running friends, became a more outdoors person, improved my health and stamina, and accumulated medals and running shirts, among other things. And, of course, successfully finished the marathon. I also learned a couple of lessons.

Anil marathon 010

  1. A good marathon is a completed marathon. I took longer than most people to complete the race, but I finished it successfully. I got my medal and jacket and kudos. Out coach told us that 98% of those who show up at the starting line, end up reaching the finish line. That was a great comfort, and a strong motivator to get up early in the morning, be excited about it, and get to the starting line. I had running buddies from my coaching group also running the race. We had physically traversed the race’s course the previous day using the coach’s script to ensure the mind does not get bored or anxious. Also, the 6 months of preparation … with long runs (or competitive races) every weekend, and a 2-hour exercise drill every Wednesday, gave us stamina and confidence. We had also been careful to stay free of running injuries to be ready for the marathon. That brings up my second lesson.

Anil marathon 005

  1. Keep it fun and injury-free. When we are preparing for the marathon, we are stretching the body to great extremes. It becomes easy to overdo and injure oneself. Many people injure their IT-band (the side of the leg from hip to the foot), knees, muscles pulls, and so on. So, run at your natural pace, with just a little bit of stretch, and make that your target pace. Do not chase the other younger and more athletic guys, the seasoned runners. Running at a natural pace uses your red-colored short-fiber leg muscles. These muscles keep up an efficient supply of oxygen and disposition of toxins (lactic acid) to keep themselves fresh and energized. Running from those muscles makes you will feel you can run all day. Do not try to sprint during long runs or the marathon … especially during those seductive downhill stretches. Sprinting utilizes the white long-fiber muscles of the thighs. These super-flexible muscles give you superb speed, but not much range. You will very soon hit a ‘wall’ when your legs freeze, and will have to abandon the marathon right there.

P.S. There were some minor lessons. Such as about investing in the right running shoes, that are one size bigger than normal to allow your feet some wiggle room. And to stay hydrated and keep the energy level high with yummy quick-release high-energy snacks bars/gels.  And of course, always listen to the coach, so you can escape a lot of grief down the road!

Moksha (Liberation) and Beyond

I had the good fortune of visiting the Brahmistan of India a few weeks ago. It is located at the geographical center of the country of India, a two hour drive from the city of Jabalpur. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s movement owns a large tract of land, where a beautiful and blissful residential and Transcendental Meditation facility has been established. A large number of Vedic Pandits meditate together at this location to spread peace around India, and indeed the world. The Pandits also do Vedic chanting here. In particular, everyday they do a Rudra Abhishekam, homage to Lord Shiva every day.  The chanting in this particular location is special, with 1331 (being 11 x 11 x 11) highly trained Maharishi Vedic pandits chanting together. Thus it is called Ati Rudra Abhishekam, (Ati means Extremely Large). It was Maharishi’s dream project, and it got fulfilled a few years after he passed on.

Brahmistan 2016 group

My daughter and I went to the Brahmistan knowing that Ati Rudra Abhishekam is a highly transformative event. Just listening to and witnessing this live chanting can have a powerful and liberating effect on oneself. We were taken to the huge meditation hall and we were seated comfortably on sofas. All the pandits, young and old, sat  on the floor, while a few pandits sat on stage doing the actions of bathing the shivlingas with milk.(see picture)

AtiRudraAbhishek

The chanting began with an hour-long obligatory oblations to many gods as well as donors. Then began the real Rudra Abhishekam chanting by the almost 1500 pandits present in the room. It was a very deeply resonant experience for me. In just a couple of minutes, my head grew heavy and woozy-doozy, and my eyes naturally closed. I was neither awake nor sleepy, and began to have amazing perceptual experiences. I ‘saw’ a giant crane, like the ones used in constructing tall buildings, pick me up by my head from the well of a tall building, and place me on the side of the building.  I felt liberated from the confines of my physical body. This is the state or the feeling of ‘moksha’.

I had never had such a vision before. Such visions are rare but powerful indicators of a quantum leap into higher wisdom, say my learned friends with whom I have shared this experience. Where do we go from here though? How do we use our liberation and higher states of consciousness for the maximum good? Do we evaporate into air like camphor, and spread like a fragrance that is always there everywhere? Do we become like a sun and emit powerful light in all directions at all times?

This leads into my Billion Buddha Project … to ensure that at least a billion people wake up to their true divine infinite powerful creative nature and live a naturally and effortlessly happy life. Enlightening others to this reality is the theme of the rest of my life.

 

Trip to Mt. Rushmore and Yellowstone National Park

This summer, we made a 3000-mile road trip to Mt. Rushmore, Yellowstone National Park, and more. For those who don’t know, Mt. Rushmore monument in South Dakota has the faces of four most important US Presidents carved on a mountain top (George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt). It was created in the 1930s. And Yellowstone is the first, and the largest, national park in the US. It was declared a national park in around 1910.

After a 800 mile drive over two days from Fairfield Iowa, we reached the Mt. Rushmore. We stayed at a nice hotel in Keystone, SD, just three miles from the monument. The monument, frankly, looked a little underwhelming from a distance. It is actually quite large at 80x human scale, but given the size of the mountains, they look small. From inside the park though, it looks imposing and grand. In the evening, there is a nice light-and-sound show that shows the history of the monument including a brief description of the accomplishments of each of the four presidents.

Anil at Mt Rushmore from a distance  4 heads at Mt Rushmore

Thirty miles from Mt. Rushmore, is the Crazy Horse memorial. This is to celebrate a native Indian chief. This monument is much bigger, at 450x the human scale. It is so big that the entire bust of 4 presidents on Mt. Rushmore would fit into the head of Crazy Horse’s bust itself. It is privately funded and is thus slowly evolving based on funding. Both the Mt. Rushmore and Crazy Horse monuments are a part of the Black Hills National Park.

Crazy Horse Memorial - Mammoth Face Anil Neerja at Yellowstone Grand Canyon

After a 700 mile and 10 hour drive on I-90, we went to Yellowstone national park through Montana. On the way we saw a limping bear cross the highway. We stayed the night with friends at the Big Sky skiing resort in Montana. The next day we drove into the huge Yellowstone national park. The entire park is a crater formed 600 thousand years ago from a major volcanic eruption. It could erupt anytime. The place is full of geysers, small and big. Steam can be rising from many spots on the ground. The big Old Faithful geyser erupts every 90 minutes, thus its name. It rose to almost 100 feet for us, though can go up to 150 ft. The old faithful inn is also a delightful structure. This park has a huge 80×80 mile lake at its center. Yellowstone park also has a Grand Canyon of its own, like the one in Arizona, with two huge falls.

From there we drove south to Grand Teeton Park, and saw its beautiful twin peaks. Through the elite resort town of Jackson Hole, Wyoming, we drove into Utah, and stayed the night at Salt Lake City. There we visited the Salt Lake Park, just west of the city. The lake is really huge and actually very salty. From there we drove to Las Vegas, and then to Los Angeles to attend a destination wedding of a friend’s son.

2014: A Transformational Year

2014 was a transformational year for me. With my first book published (business intelligence and data mining), this new blog (anilmah.com), new travel (South Africa), a new talk (personal development through transcendence), and more, it was a productive year for me. The next year will surely bring its own joys!

Book: I wrote a well-received book on business intelligence and data mining. It was launched as an ebook on Amazon in May. It has consistently sold a couple of copies every day. At the end of the 2014, it was published by Business Expert Press (BEP), a NY-based publisher, in both print and e-book edition. (See the page on My Book).

Blog: This blog started in May of the year. There are quite a few posts on it. The topics range from travel to information technology to enlightenment to Vedas to good old Leadership, and more . My first post was a travelogue of my amazing trip to Kumbh Mela last year, and it was a big hit with the readers. My recent post on leadership lessons from organizing community events brought me more followers than all others previous posts combined. I continue to post from lived experiences.

Travels: I also had two major international travels this year, to South Africa and to India. The main purpose of the South African trip in June was to teach a course as part of an Executive MBA program. However, it also included visits to Gandhian monuments in Johannesburg and Durban. It also included sightseeing including the gorgeous city of Cape Town. (see my blog post on SA visit). The main purpose of my trip to India In November-December was to deliver a talk on personal development through transcendence at a conference in IIT Roorkee. After that I went to Yog gram for a week-long naturopathic detoxing retreat, and to Rajasthan to see my extended family (See my posts on the visits to Yog Gram and Pushkar).

Talks: I have delivered a talk on ‘Personal Development through Transcendental Meditation’ four times during the year 2014, three times in the US and once in India. Each time the talk was very well received. I essentially talk about how Transcendence is an orthogonal dimension to Intellect. For intellectually smart people, transcendence can open up new infinite avenues for creativity and fulfillment. I also share about how transcending using TM and TM-Sidhis over the last 2 years helped release my inner stresses and set me up for writing creatively from the heart and getting a great reception.

In addition, I led our South Asia community at our university into celebrations for six major festivals. Three of the celebrations included large bonfires. (See my blog posts on bonfires, and on leadership lessons from holding these events).

I am sure 2015 will bring its own joys!

Visit to Yog Gram in India

Visit to Yog Gram in India

My wife and I spent a wonderful week at the naturopathic institution called Yog Gram near Haridwar in India, last month. This piece describes the nature of our nice and beneficial experience there.

YogGram

Yog Gram, or Yoga Village, was set up just 6-7 years ago by Patanjali Yogpeeth, which in turn is owned and managed by the famous yoga guru Swami Ramdev. Yog Gram is a residential retreat place. It has nice air-conditioned cottages for people to stay for rest, recuperation and detoxing. The minimum stay requirement is one week, and the maximum stay allowed is about two months. Accommodation has to be reserved well in advance, as usually there is a waiting line for getting the chance to get there. The cost of stay is reasonable. It costs only a couple of thousand rupees (about US$40-50) per day for a couple to stay in an air-conditioned cottage. This automatically includes the cost of the ayurvedic food, the naturopathic treatments, doctor examinations, and more.

The first thing that unmistakably hits the visitor to this place, is the abundance of flowers. The place is full of fresh flowers of all colors, sizes and shapes. On both sides of every pathway there are fragrant fresh flowers. This abundance of flowers is painstakingly maintained by 30 full-time resident gardeners. Just being in the midst of such beautiful flowers was uplifting for my soul. I called it floral therapy. In addition, the air quality is amazingly clean by Indian standards. The reason is that this place is next to a forest, the Rajaji national park, and far from the nearest city of Haridwar. Another natural benefit is that it  is in the land of the Holy Seers, so the vibrations are still there. Between the flowers, the pure air and the vibes, the place is like heaven.

When you check in, the doctors in residence examine every health-seeker, and then prescribe the meal patterns as well as the naturopathic treatment for the morning and the evening.

The daily routine is reasonably packed with activity. People wake up at 4:30 am and go to sleep at 9:30 pm everyday. In the morning typically there are cleansing treatments like enema, and sutra-neti and eye-wash etc. There is a 2-hour morning session in the Yoga Hall, which includes yoga practice, and group counseling. After a light customized breakfast, one goes for naturopathic treatments as prescribed. After lunch there is some time for rest. Then again there are healthy juice drinks followed by a mud-pack treatment. Then there are more naturopathic treatments in the afternoon. After a light fruit juice, there is the evening yoga session and group counseling. Then there is customized dinner, after which the health-seekers (as every visitor is called) retire for the day.

The food is custom-prepared for everyone. We were given something to eat or drink 7-8 times during each day. There are 76 different types of naturopathic treatments to select from, in consultation with the doctor. Among the treatments are many kinds of massages (head, back, full-body, etc), and baths (hot-cold, full-back, steam, sauna, etc), and wraps (for the calfs, or the abdomen etc) to name just a few.

We enjoyed and benefited from our stay at Yog Gram. It is a very nice place overall, and a very good value for money. With some minor changes, this place has the potential to become a world-class facility. Currently almost all of the visitors are Indians. The place does not yet offer the privacy of treatment that the western visitors are used to. However, the cost is a small fraction of the cost for a similar naturopathic treatment in the US. So given the value-for-money, soon foreign visitors might make a beeline for the place.

Trip to Pushkar – the king of pilgrimage sites – India

Trip to Pushkar – India

It was fascinating to visit and earn about an ancient and famous place, the holy town of Pushkar, from the eyes of a family members who grew up there in a prominent social position. I had gone there a few times earlier too, but never quite had gotten a feel for the place.

Pushkar is often called ‘Tirath Raj’ or the king of pilgrimage sites. It is also one of the oldest living cities of India. (For more visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pushkar.) Pushkar has the unique distinction of having the only temple in the world dedicated to Lord Brahma, the creator of the world according to Vedas. I visited Pushkar in December for just a few hours with my wife Neerja and my mother-in-law. I knew that my mother-in-law was born and had grown up in Pushkar. I requested her to come along with me and show us the town as she lived it. Once we reached there, she became quite animated when showing us where when the important things and important activities were, during her childhood days. Very understated by temperament, she let slip that her extended family (the Maloo family) owned half of Pushkar! I knew about her coming from a rich family in Pushkar, but this seemed really big. As an instance she said that when her father and his brothers separated, each one got many mansions in inheritance. She also stated that they used to own bricks of gold. Those bricks were mortared into walls to keep them safe from robbers. No one trusted the banks, they all trusted gold.

PushkarRaj BrahmaTemple

We visited Pushkar Raj (pic on left), the holy lake in which everyone likes to take a holy dip. It has 52 ghats, or sides from which one can access the lake. We also the Brahmaji temple (pic on right). We visited the other famous temple in Pushkar, the Ranji temple, … the old Ranji template and the the new one. We then visited one of my mother-in-law’s family mansions, which is currently rented out. We bought loads of ‘Maal Puvey’, the rich creamy pancake-shaped dessert for which Pushkar is famous.

I now had a feel for this ancient city.

Honoring the Hidden Army

Honoring the Hidden Army … by Dr. Anil Maheshwari

This long Labor Day weekend we attended our Indian ethnic community’s convention in Grand Rapids, Michigan. It was a beautiful 3-day affair with over 700 guests visiting from 27 states in the US and Canada, and some from India. This biennial event offered colorful environment, sumptuous food 5 times a day, nice bollywood entertainment, and 52 breakout sessions serving a variety of stuff from Yoga to financial advice to ‘rangoli’ competition. People greatly enjoyed the program and danced their hearts out. More importantly, they rebuilt old relationships and then built some new ones.

On the last morning of the event, many people behind the event were being thanked from the stage. A few named leaders were thanked for their vision, commitment and dedication. As is customary, the organizers called all of the almost 100 volunteers to the stage to thank them and take a nice group photo. That was a great moment of cheer.

However, the organizers did something even better. They called on stage all the hotel staff which included the servers and the chefs and many others who in their black and gray uniforms worked tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure our every wish was met. Their picture was taken with the leaders of the event. It was a touching moment, at least for me. I don’t recall having ever before seen the hidden army of servers and cleaners being brought to the fore and thanked in such a prominent way. It was the right thing to do. In one stroke it brought cheers to so many undervalued overworked people. By this action, we also taught our younger generation the value of respect for everyone.

IMRC Hotel staff IMRC Volunteers

 

This is the future of leadership. Everyone who performs their tasks in a conscientious and quality manner should be respected profusely. It does good to the spirit of the individuals, and it also builds a nice culture for the organization. It builds the thickness of connection in society that lubricates collaboration for success in the future.

 

Trip to the Big and Beautiful South Africa

A Trip to the Big and Beautiful South Africa

Dr. Anil Maheshwari

I traveled to South Africa with my family (wife Neerja and daughter Nupur) for three weeks in June 2014. It was two parts work and one part vacation. The first two weeks we stayed in Johannesburg where I was mostly working, and the final week was spent sightseeing in two other cities, Durban and Cape Town. This was the first time we had traveled to the country of South Africa, to the continent of Africa, and to the Southern hemisphere. Feeling the winter in the month of June itself was a mind expanding experience for us. We rented a part of a house in an upscale neighborhood not too far from downtown Johannesburg.

Jozi, as Johannesburg is popularly called, feels just like Delhi. From the smell at the airport, to the smell on the roads, and the traffic patterns on the road, to the structure of the houses, it feels just like Delhi. Just like in India, here they drive on the left side of the road. There are swanky new cars, and more than their fair share of the luxury cars of the Audi, Mercedes, and BMW brands. There are some places of squatters alternating with high-valued beautiful housing areas. Weather patterns are similar to Delhi, except that it is winter in June. The big difference is security: houses have tall walls with iron railings, topped by electric fences. Security is an important aspect. The city is generally considered not too secure. Every house and building has layers of security. People lock their doors scrupulously during the day. Entry of cars into the house is carefully managed so the car and house cannot be hijacked. Security is big business, $8B per year. It is also a good source of employment for the South African youth.

There is a ‘Little India’ in Johannesburg. Close to downtown is the market of Fordsburg, where one can buy everything Indian. From vegetarian restaurant and grocery shops to sugarcane juice to ayurvedic doctor to oriental market, there are many reminders of the Indian culture and life style. We visited Fordsburg often to enjoy vegetarian Indian lunch or grocery shopping or just to enjoy the sugarcane juice.

Also in downtown is Gandhi square at the intersection of Rissik Street and Anderson, at the location of the original offices of Mohandas Gandhi, the young barrister who later became Mahatma. There is a statue of Gandhi ji at the square. It was amazing to see this statue of the young Gandhi in full legal attire, which was unlike most Gandhi statues that showed the old Mahatma with round glasses.

Gandhi Statue at Gandhi Square in Johannesburg
Gandhi Statue at Gandhi Square in Johannesburg

Work

My main purpose to come here was to teach for an Executive MBA program run by our university here for the second-biggest telecom operator  in South Africa. I taught IT Project Management here three evenings a week, traveling to their head office in a fast-growing Joburg suburb called Midrand. I liked very much the middle-level managers who were students in my course. The office buildings were nice, and I showed up three evenings a week for classes beginning at 5 pm. This happened for the first two weeks of my trip. I also got an opportunity to meet with the CEO of the company, a go-getter person of Indian origin, who is driving the company to rapid growth through investing big in people and infrastructure.

The second part of my work during these two weeks was to work with Maharishi Invincibility Institute (MII), a sister organization of our university, to help improve business processes. MII works out of a big clean donated building in downtown Joburg. Here students take courses at the bachelor’s degree level from my university, in a distance education mode. These are mostly disadvantaged black students who are nonetheless ambitious and want to improve their life and career prospects by getting a valuable education with an American degree. They practice Transcendental Meditation (TM), have glowing faces, and are very well-behaved and responsible individuals. The staff is very committed to the cause of Transcendental Meditation, and of spreading peace and harmony in the world. I worked with the director of MII, along with the other administrators to help them design information systems to improve delivery of distance education, and management of academic records. I really enjoyed working with them, and was glad to be of help.

Sightseeing- JoBurg

During the first full weekend in Joburg, we rented a nice Audi car and visited two safari and game parks. Pilanesburg is the 4th largest game reserve in SA, and is located about 2.5 hours away from Joburg. We spent a whole day, leaving house at 7 am and returning around 7 pm. We saw many kinds of animals. We saw two of the big five, the elephants and the rhinos. We could not see lions, leopards and buffaloes. We saw many zebras and giraffes at very close quarters, sometimes worried that they might attack us. But they were all quiet and calm and enjoyed their time in the sun, while we stopped the car and took pictures and videos.

African Elephant at the Pilansberg Natural Reserve
African Elephant at the Pilansberg Natural Reserve

The next day we traveled to and spent the night at Ezemvelo, a huge picturesque and unspoilt nature reserve owned by MII. With no noise whatsoever except the crackle of the wood burning in the fireplace, we slept peacefully as never before.

Sightseeing- Durban

After the two weeks in Joburg, we rented another Audi car and drove to Durban. We drove down the 6 hour drive on the first day. As an indicator of things to come, we saw a predominantly Indian community at the midway point where we took a lunch break. The second day we went to an incredible Indian market called the Victoria Street market, in downtown Durban. Most of the shops and visitors there looked ethnic Indians. My family picked up all their souvenir jewellery items there. We could negotiate prices to our heart’s content.

At Victoria Street Market in Durban
At Victoria Street Market in Durban

In the evening, we went to the beautiful beach on the Indian Ocean. We also enjoyed visiting Ushaka village, a nice shopping area in downtown Durban by the ocean.

Nupur at the beach in downtown Durban
Nupur at the beach in downtown Durban

The next day went to the Gandhi ashram, in the original Phoenix settlement. Gandhiji’s original structure had been rebuilt including his housing area and the printing press. The area around the settlement was still very poor with just squatters all around. We took pictures and videos, and also bought some momentos.

At the Gandhi Press in Phoenix, Durban
At the Gandhi Press in Phoenix, Durban

Later in the day, we visited the Umhlanga beach to the north of Durban, a very nice and clean beach close to our hotel. We played soccer on the beach with a couple of young black people, and it was a lot of fun.

Sightseeing- Cape Town

After three good days in Durban, we flew into Cape Town. This is a gorgeous city that opens up on two oceans, Atlantic and Indian. As soon as we landed at our hotel, we were met with our TM friends Elizabeth and her husband Barry. They took us to Camp’s Bay, and we dined at a very nice Indian restaurant called The Raj, which is frequented by Bollywood stars. The food was one of the best Indian vegetarian foods. The beach in front had white sand. We went on a gorgeous long drive along the coast line on the Atlantic Ocean side. We also visited the wineries and sat down for a cheese cake and rooibos tea.

The next day was sunny, and we decided to make the most of it. In the morning we went to Robben Island, the high security prison where Mandela was imprisoned for more than two decades. In the afternoon we visited Table Mountain, a picturesque high and flat mountain by the sea. We took the ferry to Robben Island from the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, which is a nicely done up shopping and entertainment area by the sea. It took almost an hour to be ferried the 11 k distance to the island by the old boat which used to ferry actual prisoners in the years gone by.

Ferried to the Robben island the old boat that used to ferry prisoners
Ferried to the Robben island the old boat that used to ferry prisoners

Robben Island was clean and nicely done up, evoking the experience of the prison, while not being to too dark and dingy. We were taken around the jail by a former prisoner in the jail. We got to visit the cell #7 in Wing B, the cell occupied by Nelson Mandela, often referred to by the former prisones as Father Mandela. One could see the Table Mountain from the island.

At Robben Island with the Table Mountain in the background
At Robben Island with the Table Mountain in the background

Upon returning to the mainland, we took a cab to quickly go to the Table Mountain cableway. We took the cableway to the top of the mountain. Initially we just sat towards the front and enjoyed lunch at the restaurant on the top of the mountain. However, when we went behind the restaurant, we discovered the huge expanse of the mountain. It was entirely walkable, just a tad more difficult than a garden walk. There were breathtaking views of the Atlantic Ocean on one side, and of the city of Cape Town and the Indian Ocean on the other side.

On top of Table Mountain
On top of Table Mountain

The next day we went to Cape Point, the southernmost tip of Africa. This is the point where the Atlantic and the Indian Oceans meet. The weather was not so good, and it rained off and on. However, our good friends Elizabeth and Barry took up the 65 km ride very nicely. We entered the Cape Point area, and then took a cableway to the top of a mountain. Then we climbed up some more stairs to see a lighthouse. This tall lighthouse stands elegantly as a beacon of hope to those perhaps stranded in ocean. We took pictures on both sides of Cape Point, of Indian and Atlantic Ocean sides. We ate some at the Two Oceans café up there.

Return

The next day, we flew back to Johannesburg. We took the time to visit Soweto, the famous large black colony, like the Dharavi slum of Bombay. This is where Mandela had lived for many years. We visited Mandela house, which is now a museum, and took pictures.

At Mandela House in Soweto
At Mandela House in Soweto

We also visited the Apartheid museum in the southwest side of Joburg. This museum stands as a monument to the dark period of human history in South Africa. The museum shocks the visitor into the experience of apartheid by assigning you to one of two entrances … for whites only, and for the colored. The paths are nice and wide and lighted for one case, and steel-caged, dark and narrow for the other. The museum is nicely done through images and videos from the struggle. There was also a permanent exhibit on the life and work of Nelson Mandela.

Mandela looms large at the entrance to the Apartheid Museum
Mandela looms large at the entrance to the Apartheid Museum

We spent the weekend quietly organizing ourselves, and tying up some loose ends. Nupur and I watched a movie at the theater. ‘Miners Shot Down’ is a grim but gripping political documentary about the massacre of miners by the state police in August 2012, the worst massacre since the apartheid era. It spelled out the power of mining companies in South Africa, and how often the state and police apparatus work in collusion with the business interests. I followed it up with a nicer romantic movie, a Woody Allen movie called ‘Fading Gigolos’.

The next evening, we were dropped off at the Johannesburg airport by a friend from MII, and we left South Africa with very fond memories. I also thought that Cape Town might be a nice place to settle in, if the opportunity presented itself.

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