Friday, March 23, 2012

A long weekend from trip Bangalore - A river, a race, a beach, a fishmarket and a roadtrip.

A few weeks back an event invite popped up in Facebook. It was for the Royal Enfield's road trip to watch the Kambla races. I am no motor-biker but the itinerary and Kambla races piqued my interest.
I contacted the organizers to see if we (an innova and kids) could tag along. It was a bike only trip but they were nice enough to share all the details if I wanted to do it on my own. So, planning began and the a wonderful weekend came to fruition.

Day 1 - Bangalore -> Dharmashtala. I found a really nice cottage by a shallow stream on a plantation. Stream of Joy - Trip advisor had lots of good things to say about it and it turned out to be an amazing stay. The shallow stream with a tire tube swing, bamboo raft and a macchan to hang out and spend the night on was an amazing experience. An evening excursion to a famous temple nearby to hand feed a thousand hungry fish followed by a jeep ride to a Jain temple overjoyed the kids. The home cooked food was local, vegetarian and very delicious.

Day 2 Part 1- Dharmsthala - Kambla Race. We left our cottage around 10am and spend a good half an hour looking at how bowls and plates were made using palm stalks at the plantation. Then we were on the road and with a little meandering made our way to the Kambla race. A large field by a river had enough buffaloes being bathed, fed and decorated to confirm that we had reached the right place. I had heard conflicting reports about this traditional race - especially concerning the treatment of the buffalos and their ability to run. The race tract was not very long and after watching a few races I was more concerned about the human runners that had to keep up with the beasts.
It was hot day and after watching some thirty races and meeting the motorbikes we decided to make our way to Mangalore.

Day 2 Part 2- Dharmasthala - Mangalore was a two hour drive. Based on trip advisor and a great expedia deal I had chosen to say at the Taj Gateway hotel. In a way it was nice to get into an air conditioned hotel as it was turning into a hot and humid day. We ate and relaxed before visiting the beach. Camel and horse rides along with jet skiing kept the older kids busy while by little one was content sitting by the edge of the ocean while the waves pushed him around. A short, slightly crowded beach with lots of snack stall could not compete with the beached of Goa we frequent but was still a beach and that always means fun.

Day 3- Mangalore to Bangalore. While the kids wiped out from the beach slept my mom and I made our way to the fish market around the corner. Mangalore is famous for its seafood. While we did not buy any fish we had a great time looking and taking photos. The fisherwomen were very friendly and happy to pose for the photos. The variety of fresh fish was worth seeing.
From Mangalore to Bangalore it was an eight hour drive with a few breaks for food. We left at noon and were home by eight pm. The roads were good and the drive comfortable with some nice scenic views as we traversed the western ghats.

It turned out to be a great use of a three day weekend and had more packed in it that I thought possible. I would recommend Stream of Joy as a great weekend getaway even without the Kambla races and Mangalore. With its serene surroundings and peaceful water activities it is a place that created beautiful memories.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Everyone has a birthday

Everyone has a birthday but not everyone celebrates one. Growing up in India I did not know when my Indian grandmother’s birthday was. I had never heard of any of the household help have or celebrate a birthday. Many of the poorer kids I played with were clueless about this date or celebration concept – it just did not fit into the family budget, it had not for generations and never became the tradition the rest of us are so used to.

Today I was at one of my favorite haunts – the panipuri guy. I was there later than usual – around seven pm. As I walked up a little kid pushed past me and handed his money to the panipuri guy. He had four rupees in what seemed like ten coins. Here a plate of panipuri has six pieces and goes for ten rupees. So, four rupees would buy you around two and a half pieces, three on a generous day. I saw the panipuri guy give him four. The kid was happy and I was surprised – hawkers are not always generous.

Cakebox perched on top of the portable
gas burner.
My turn came and as I stood near him I noticed a group of men around. They seemed impatient. One held a portable stove and another was on the phone arranging for ‘basmati, not any other kind, rice’. There were two peeling potatoes and chopping onions – helping my panipuri guy. My curiosity – which is easy to spike anyways – had peaked. Then I saw the man with a box. It was a cake-box. They were trying to get the panipuri guy to hurry up and close shop so they could go and party. There would be cake and biryani. A group of twenty-something daily wage earners. Far away from their families from a state a thousand miles from here. They had a cake and a friend with a birthday.

I got an extra panipuri too. He did not say why and I did not wish him. But I raised it as a silent toast to him as I ate it. I know there are way more important things in life but having friends and a birthday you celebrate is something worth squeezing in.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Stepping through a complete health checkup at Apollo Delhi

Rs 4400 for a complete health checkup – that is the price of an executive package at the Apollo hospital in Delhi. It looked too good to be true for someone like me that had paid $125 (~Rs 6000) just for my grandma to consult with a physician in the US recently. The checkup included an ECG and TMT for the heart, and ultrasound of the abdomen, blood test galore, an x-ray, doctor consultation and wellness counseling. My mother was visiting the hospital for her one year checkup. A brain aneurysm last Feb had put a lot of fears into us and besides the scheduled angiogram we though a full body checkup would be good. So, we signed up for the executive package.
Executive Health Checkup Includes
all this minus echocardiography and SGOT
(a liver function test)
Step 1 – Call up for an appointment.
It was late in the evening, It had been a long day at the hospital I called to make an appointment. The guy on the line was a smartass – to put it politely. I went along with his first few retorts then he asked me for my mom’s patient id. “AF123…” I read out. “What kind of a number is that?” was a super-fast retort. “What do you mean I asked?” “It sounds like an old weird number, what kind of a number is it?” I had had enough. He got an earful about him working for the hospital that hands out such numbers and going and having a talk with his employers about weird old numbers they hand out. A minute later I had an appointment for the next morning.
Step 2 – Show up for the appointment
You pay when you show up. That means – stand in line at the information counter to be told to go to counter 23, to be told to go to counter 21 for billing, return to counter 23 for invoice then go to counter 25 and listen to three people argue and grumble about their bill before paying.
Step 3 – Nurses Evaluation
Smooth and easy, they take your weight and medical history and give you hope for the rest of the process.
Step 4 Realizing you are number 8 and number 18
After the nurse is done with you she write room numbers against each test you are due for and leads you to the first one – blood collection room. Here you find out you are number 8 in line and should sit till you are called. You sit and count seventeen people go into the room before you lose your patience. As you enter the room to ask it is magically your turn. It seems you were number eighteen.
Step 5 Grit and Repeat
At this point you realize a lot of people bought the executive package and the smartass appointment guy told everyone to show up at 10am. Many of the package buyers are foreigners with translator so an extra pinch of chaos is added. Most patients are hungry – empty stomact for some tests – and edgy. You learn to navigate the line and in some case even cut the line. You speak in Hindi in a demanding, assertive yet polite tone.  You do this for six tests before it is 1pm and time for lunch.
Step 6 Why oh Why?
The next test requires that the patient have eaten two hours prior so there is a two hour break after lunch. There are cafeterias and the package includes a ‘breakfast/lunch’ coupon. We kill time over cups and tea and return back to the second floor. At the first look I was scared they were done for the day. It was empty. The crowd from 10am had vanished. The rest of the tests were a breeze. Almost no waiting lines with relaxed unhurried attendants. You wonder why they called you at 10am. I suspect this being India they called people from 8am on and everyone showed up at 10am but after years of this they should know this by now. Why did they call us at 10am? Why oh why?
Step 7 – Appointment for the next day
You are to come back the next day to get your results and consult with a doctor. This time the appointment is done in person. This time you are smarter. You ask the nurses what a good time of the day is. You take a 4pm appointment.
Step 8 – Four pm means five thirty pm
We were fifteen minutes late getting to the appointment. I was hoping we would not get bumped off the list. Well the doctor was an hour and a half late so it all evened out I guess.
On the positive front all the test results were ready and he spent a great deal of time going over the results. On the very positive personal front all tests results were good and that meant my mom was healthy – this also meant not coming back to the hospital.
Step 9 – Wrapping up
Like the initial nurse station experience this was great. All notes were typed up in timely manner and given in a nice carry bag by chirpy assistants. You almost felt like the chaos and waiting never happened.

Long story short-
It is a great package for the price you pay – the tests are great and doctors good. Just be ready for an unready staff and chaos that you have to personally navigate through. Or, be smart and ask for an afternoon appointment or show up a couple of hours late.