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We live in the era of war and tragedy and accidents and some mayhem.

So usually, when we hear of the gallantry of a fire fighter who fought and saved people from burning to death, or the man on the border, who fought an attack from the enemy, or a bus driver who rescues passengers from the bus, even while risking his life, we do find ourselves applauding these brilliant acts and the people responsible for them.

And rightly so.

And yet, there are possibly many many more who need to be acknowledged, but who don’t get the same (or any) credit.

Let me give a few examples:

1. Recently there was a fire in a commercial building in Mumbai, causing a lot of damage, injuries to many firefighters, and even the death of one of them. This is the incident I refer to:

http://www.dnaindia.com/mumbai/report-mumbai-building-fire-one-fireman-dies-in-multi-storey-building-fire-in-andheri-2003106

Most certainly the fire fighters did a commendable job. Perhaps against a lot of odds. And they ensured that damage was restricted to the minimum, even at the cost of their own lives.

Think however, if there could have been another bigger hero.

The building inspector maybe, who spotted inadequate fire fighting facilities, or some changes made in the building which made it a fire hazard, etc. and who orders those to be fixed, much before the fire happened.

The building secretary maybe, who against all odds of the clout of the owners, who insist on having their way, manages to get changes done, so as to make the building a safer building for fires.

And ensures that the fire does not even happen!

Will such people even be acknowledged?? They will, in fact, be hated because they cause inconvenience, and force changes, and cause discomfort and expenses!!

2. War heroes or security forces who fight terrorists, are always celebrated. Those who combatted the insurgents in Kargil and won the war for India. Or those who fought off the terrorists at the Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai.

Absolutely deserved heroes of our times!

How about the ones on the border who day in and day out, look for the gaping holes from where enemy could sneak in. And keep covering those gaps. Keep ensuring that an enemy attack does not even happen. Perhaps risking their own lives, as they expose themselves to risk out there.

Or in case of the terror attack in Mumbai, what if a Coast Guard had identified a weakness in the system, ordered for fixes, ensured that some new equipment was ordered and installed, and fundamentally prevented an attack of this sort. We’d probably be thinking of the large capital expenditure, and whether there are kickbacks involved!

Leave alone giving him any due, for potentially preventing a Mumbai terror attack of that quantum, from happening!

3. This post was inspired in fact, by this story about an Air India plane that averted disaster,on account of some quick and smart thinking from the pilots on board.

http://www.rediff.com/news/report/how-air-india-crew-averted-a-major-air-disaster/20140718.htm

With 315 passengers on board, we could have been staring at a major disaster. Which thankfully, did not happen, due to the adept handling by the captains on board.

But as the article says, there was little or no mention of this heroic deed. As against that, if there had been a crash, God forbid, it would have been all over the papers!

That is the sad situation where a lot of heroes who ensure that disasters don’t happen, remain unsung heroes in society.

There is a certain apathy around those who are process oriented, who are finicky to the detail, who seem to have an eye to spot mistakes and alert.. they are not celebrated, but in fact, made fun of. Little realising that, these in fact, are the bigger heroes in our lives.

Let’s learn to respect processes, respect these individuals who work at it, relentlessly..

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politician-cartoon-in-india_sIt was quite a unique and interesting proposal that the party had come up with, as a part of their manifesto, so the journalist decided to go and meet the senior minster to understand more about the proposal..

Interviewer: “Sir, where other metros have been working on setting up conventions centres and exhibition grounds in the city, your proposal for Delhi is something very different?”

Leader: “Yes, it is. You see, what Delhi needs today, is not one more convention centre or exhibition ground. What we needs are a few places where Dharnas can happen comfortably..”

Interviewer: “Few places? Why not just one??”

Leader: “See, this is the problem with you, young reporters. You do not go to the depth of any issue…”

“You know that there are all kinds of Dharnas and we need to take care of all of the different types…”

Interviewer: “Sir, pardon my ignorance on this. But for the benefit of our viewers, can you please explain what are the different type of dharnas?”

Leader: “Offooo.. yeh bhi samjhana padega.. chalo theek hai…”

“See, one is the length of the dharna.. from few hours to a full day to a few days to in fact, the Anna Hazare kind, of many many days…; so we need to see if we need to provide sleeping facilities, toilets, bathrooms, changing rooms, etc…”dharna

“Then, we have to consider the size of audience that the dharna may attract. From few where barely 10-15 people gather – ok, never mind, that is not even called a dharna then. But say, from 100 to 500 to 5,000 to 50,000… we have to account for different kinds. Not only to cover the standing / seating space, but the approach road, exits, canteen facilities, toilet blocks… nahin to bahut gandagi reh jaati hai, dharna ke baad. Akhir log kitna control karke baithe rahenge..?”

“The other aspect is the quality of the dharna. Is it a fast-unto-death? In that case, we have to arrange for refrigerated nimbu paani facility…”

Interviewer: “Sorry to interrupt you, Sir. But if they are fasting, why do you need nimbu paani service?”

Leader: “When is the last time that someone actually fasted to his death?? Arre, yeh death-beth kehne wali baat hai. Koi nahi marta. Everyone waits for the right moment to have the nimbu paani. Now, when that moment comes, we do not know. So it is best to provide for a refrigerated supply of nimbu paani ready and available. After all, if we are creating the state-of-the-art dharna facility, we have to take care of this aspect too, no?”

Interviewer: “Wow, I never thought of all this. Sir, what other facilities you plan to have in these centres?”

Leader: “We have a large media centre at all of these places. Of course, if it is a 100-member dharna place, there will be space for only one OB van. The media will have to find a way to share the signals. But for the larger facilities, multiple OB vans can be parked and there will be space for the on-ground reporters and the cameramen to freshen up, do their last minute makeup, have chai-paani, etc. What we must appreciate is that, while the suited-booted stars of the news channels sitting in their air-conditioned studios get all the limelight, it is the on-ground reporters and the cameramen, who really struggle to send the news as it happens, and it is our duty, to take care of their well being..”

Interviewer: “Wah, that is so noble of you. Sir, you have taken care of television. But we are living in the times of social media. Are you doing anything special for them?”

Leader: “This is the first smart question you have asked! And yes, of course, we are a forward thinking party, and we have considered everything for the social media folks…”

“All the dharna centres will be fully wi-fi equipped – that too at 3G levels, and when 4G comes in, we will upgrade too. And there will be no license wars here.. hahaha.. (*laughs heartily as his own joke*). Plus, we will have charging stations all over, for the phones and the tablets and for those, who are still on their old laptops! There will be facility for the dharna organisers to constantly release video clips and official photos, that the social media types can take and share ahead.. and there will be facilities on the stage, where the dharna leaders are sitting, for them to live tweet too….”

“PLUS, we are doing something that not even the biggest of exhibitions or tradeshow folks have done in India yet. We will set up mega Social Media Command Centres at the two biggest dharna facilities, where multiple large screens will show in realtime, all the various tweets and facebook updates about the dharna, as they are happening, so people can pick up trends, see if any other political leaders are also tweeting, etc. and take necessary further steps…”

Interviewer: “Wow.. I am so impressed. This is truly a first-of-its-kind anywhere in the world…”

“But Sir, while you are doing all this for Delhi, the people of Delhi are definitely NOT going to be happy about this. It causes tremendous inconvenience to them in terms of traffic snarls and what not. And now as per your plans to create 5 different dharna centres in Delhi, the people are going to get disgusted. And in fact, they may not vote for you, in spite of this fantastic plan that you have come up with…?”

Leader: “Haha.. hum ko kya bewakoof samjha hai? Do you think, we will do all this, only to lose votes from Delhi??”

“The concern for the people of Delhi comes first. What we are proposing, for each of these dharna locations, is a direct flyover to the place, from the nearest railway station and from the airport. This flyover will not disturb any other traffic and that way, it will ensure that regular traffic in Delhi, keeps moving on fine. Now you understand? Delhi will get the benefit of numerous dharnas that will be based in the city – and the accompanying economic benefits to the trade in Delhi – and yet, it will not impact any traffic problems for the residents of the city…”

“Now, isn’t that a winning strategy??”

Interviewer: “Yes, Minister…”

Having driven close to the ocean on the east coast, while reaching Kaikoura, it was now time to cut away from the ocean, and go across the country, towards the west coast of New Zealand.

All drives in New Zealand were a mix of driving by oceans, on vast stretches of flat land, and driving through thick greens of forest land. Most roads were single or at most 2 lane highways, and some were even smaller roads in the middle of large stretches of farmland. Often, you’d not see another soul for several km. The east coast to west coast drive was a fun drive, like all others, and we headed into Greymouth, our first stop.

More precisely, we stayed at Paroa, a kind of sister-city to Greymouth. Although both of them are really small towns anyway! What we missed by oversight was a place called Punakaiki, which came on the way, about 50 km before hitting Greymouth. As we reached Greymouth / Paroa at around 8 pm in the night, it was just a little too much to travel back, see and then return back. Must mention at this point that, since we travelled in Dec-Jan, in proper summer of Southern Hemisphere, we enjoyed the benefits of really long days. Routinely, we would be out, driving and seeing places, or reaching places, till 9/9-30 pm, when it was quite bright! That allowed us to make the most of any day, in terms of things we could do, and distances we were able to cover.

However, it was not possible to head back to Punakaiki and come back, so that option was dropped. Essentially, we just hung out in Paroa, not doing much that evening.

Next day, we were to drive in to Fox Glacier, and started making enquiries about the helicopter ride option, to land on to Fox Glacier. Unfortunately, as the weather was not too good (overcast and a little rain), all of the calls that we made, conveyed to us the message that the helicopter rides were not happening.

So we headed out of Paroa, towards a cute little town called Hokitika. A very typical small town, with open streets, cafes, some local art, and generally kind and friendly locals, that is what I would describe Hokitika as. We walked around the town, saw some of their shops and had breakfast at a local cafe.

Anniversary and New Zealand 008 copyIn fact, an old lady (no younger than 80 years.. perhaps older) walked up to us and chatted. She was from the Netherlands originally, had been to many parts of the world, but had settled down here, for last 50 years. And she loved it. She said that this was a place if you wanted to slow down. That they liked it slow and easy. What’s the rush for, anyway, is how they saw it. And she also said that the cafe we were in, was most popular with the locals, and that one must judge a place by that – if the locals like it, it must really be good! Good wisdom, that was.. nice encounter!

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From Hokitika, we headed off to a very interesting tourist attraction. This is called the West Coast Tree Top Walk.

Here you’ll find a large number of very tall trees. A small trail takes you upwards closer to the top levels of the trees. And here in the midst of the tall heights of the trees, they have constructed metal walkways, so as to give you the feel on how it is to be at the top levels of these tall trees. Quite an interesting construction and experience.

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After completing the Walk on the Tree Tops, we headed straight to Fox Glacier. At number of places on the way, where the helicopter rides were being offered and advertised for, we kept stopping to see if we could book one. And everywhere, we just heard that the weather was bad, and they were still not flying. We headed to Fox Glacier and checked into our hotel anyway. Resigned that at least that day, the helicopter ride may not happen, and we pray for better weather the next day.

There were other means to see and experience the glaciers. One is from a distance, by going to a closest point, and the other was by walking in the glaciers, and which required a certain effort, dexterity, fitness and intent. The latter was not the most attractive option for us! And so we were hoping for the heli rides to happen.

And as we kept asking, we got lucky, and the weather opened up just that little bit to enable us to take the heli ride, though it was not good enough for us to land on the snow. We opted not to wait and take a chance for the next day. And glad that we did not, since as it turned out, the next day was even worse, as far as weather went, and if we had waited, we would have not even got the experience that we did!

In addition to the heli ride to the glaciers, we also went out to Matheson Lake at Fox Glacier, for some of the most breathtaking views of nature, reflections in water, and the blue sky that one could get.

We also happened to be at Fox Glacier on the night of the 31st, so we had hopes and plans of doing something special to bring in the New Year. However, as the locals informed us, in the small town that it was, there were no major celebrations or parties for New Year’s Eve. We did hang around at a nice small cafe, sipping our wine and enjoying some pizza, waiting for 2014 to arrive. Also considering that we were a good 7-odd hours ahead of India at that point, we were welcoming 2014 before most of our Indian friends! Which was an interesting highlight of sorts.. !

Fox Glacier photos are shared below..

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The first day of 2014 broke in Fox Glacier and it was drizzling and overcast. There was an idea to see if we could head straight to Queenstown, as there was a one day cricket match scheduled that day, between West Indies and New Zealand. However, seeing the way the weather was shaping up, we wondered if the game will at all be one, and whether it was worth rushing down. We decided against it.

And just left Fox Glacier as per our original plans, with a scheduled stop at Wanaka on the way, before reaching the most exciting destination in New Zealand, Queenstown.

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auckland sky towerWe were to take the evening flight from Sydney, and would get into Auckland, close to midnight. Bear in mind, this would have been about 36 hours since we left home in Mumbai, and would have spent all that time, either in flights on at airport terminals or on the road in Sydney! And after such a long flight, we were entering a new country, close to midnight, and we needed to get to a hotel at that time! Originally, I had booked a hotel in the city, but with the late night arrival into Auckland, I chose to find out if the hotel will have someone to receive us at that time, and whether it would be comfortable to get into the room so late! Ordinarily, you don’t even need to check these things as they would be assumed to be obvious. But I am glad that I thought of checking. For what I was informed was that there would be no one from the hotel at the reception, at that late hour, and that a key would have been left for us, and we’d be able to find our room and get into it. I visualised a midnight arrival, getting bags and getting out of the airport by half-past midnight, then getting a cab, driving into the city to the motel, removing the bags and letting the cab go, then heading to the reception to find our keys kept somewhere, and then trying to find and reach the room. With no human to help. After nearly 36 hours of travel time! What if the keys were not there or they didn’t work? At that time, with all those bags and stuff, what would we do? Maybe there would be no taxis to find easily, even if we needed to go somewhere else.. All of this was kind of a scary thought, so I looked out for options. And found an IBIS Budget hotel, located close to the airport, and where they confirmed availability of people, all 24 hours! The change was made, and we reached that hotel, after landing at midnight. We took our time to get started next day morning, and after breakfast, we went and rented out our car, from Apex Car Rental Services. That same day, we were to drive down to Rotorua, a roughly 2.5 hour drive. So we had just 3-4 hours to drive around Auckland and see what we could see of the city. We went and saw some parts of Auckland Central area, then an area referred to as One Tree Hill, Davenport and Mission Bay. We got a good quick view of Auckland city, before heading out to Rotorua.

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We headed off to Rotorua, our first city-to-city drive, in New Zealand. There was some rain in the course of the drive, and we got the first taste of driving at speed, with rain splattering on the windshield. We quickly realised how useful the GPS unit was, as we could reach our motel in Rotorua, precisely, with the voice commands of the GPS unit. It was evening by the time we reached the motel, and when we enquired about the Maori dance programs, we found that the shows were already under way, and we would not be able to catch them. As we needed to leave in the morning the next day, we resigned to our fate that maybe, we would not be able to catch the Maori dance. We did head out to the other big attraction in Rotorua, which was the Polynesian Spa. And enjoyed the hot spring waters’ spa, under the moonlit sky. The spa was full of Japanese people – I guess, they like spas more than others?! While this was a fancy and very busy spa, what took me by a little surprise (shock?) was the large changing room (and showers) for men, where folks were comfortably walking around in full monty! Honestly, I was a little taken aback, as I had never had the need to see 10-15 males walking around without clothes, quite comfortably! That apart, the spa was an enjoyable experience. One bit of a worry hit us that evening. The GPS unit stopped functioning – it had frozen! And it was too late to contact anyone and get help. Considering that this was the first day of a long trip, I was worried about having the same challenge later on as well. After returning to the room, I managed to look up the Internet to troubleshoot and luckily managed to find the solution. Went and checked the same, and was happy to find the GPS unit start working fine. It was good to have gone through this experience so that we knew how to manage the GPS unit little better. Next day morning, as we left Rotorua with the intent of heading off to Wellington, we managed to catch Te Puia in Rotorua, and which was alive and active early in the morning. Here we were then able to do the Maori dance event, and also see the amazing thermal geysers, sulphur and mud pools. Some pictures of our Rotorua stay…

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We headed out from Rotorua, and after a stop at Huka Falls, went ahead towards Taupo. Some photos from Huka Falls and Lake Taupo are as below:

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Finally we made it to Wellington, late in the evening, with really no time to see the city, except for admiring the sunset and the beautiful skies, as we entered the city. The next day morning, we needed to leave by ferry, with our car, to get to the South Island.

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Ahh..so that was a quick couple of days in North Island, and we were all set to head to the South Island, which was supposed to be far more beautiful and enchanting..

 

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We flew out from Mumbai in the morning, headed to Singapore, had a short break at Singapore, before heading off to Sydney. We arrived early morning the next day, at Sydney, and had an onward flight to Auckland, only late in the evening. With a whole day at our disposal, we went into Sydney city, on the Boxing Day, and managed to catch a little bit of the beautiful Australian city.

We had taken Australian visas – in fact, as our original plans had an Australian part of the vacation – and these were necessary to get out into Sydney city. Although strictly speaking, for a transit halt, of no more than 72 hours, one could take a different kind of visa meant for the purpose, and which was also free of cost (as against the cost one has to pay for a regular tourist visa).

We had the other challenge, that of our bags. We needed to get our bags off, once we reached Sydney, and check-in again, with our bags, on our flight to Auckland. This was because the two sectors were independently booked, and not part of a single booking. Now we can’t haul around our bags all day, as we move around Sydney city. So what do we do?

Well, most airports provide baggage storage services, and we found the one at Sydney airport. There were two kinds – one, of an expensive nature, but which was within the terminal building, and the other, in the separate parking building of the airport, but which was far more affordable. We searched, found and used the latter.

Then, as we were four of us, we opted to take a cab (4 train or bus tickets would have been more money than a cab ride!) to central Sydney, and from where we opted to take one of those hop-on-hop-off open-top bus tours, and explore the city.

The Sydney Opera, Sydney Harbour Bridge, Bondi Beach were some of the places visited during the day. Some pictures follow herebelow..

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How did the idea come? 

2013 was a big year in life. I completed 50 years in October, and 25 years of marriage in December.

The significance of the year had been on my mind for a while, and one of the things I wanted to do, was to take a good vacation, and celebrate the dual events in life.

I looked at options like Scotland, other parts of Europe, the Canadian Rockies and Alaska, and Australia-New Zealand. I was to travel in December, that was for sure. The key thing that worked out in favour of the Southern Hemisphere destinations was the fact that in December, Southern Hemisphere would enjoy longer days, and in fact, destinations like Canadian Rockies would see really short days! That was a clincher of a reason, and so it was to be – Australia and New Zealand were decided.

I planned a good, overall, month-long trip, with the first half being in Australia, across various interesting spots, and then New Zealand.

Unfortunately, due to some developments at work, I was not able to get out as planned, and had to push my departure date. And this was AFTER all tickets had been booked and plans were in place. At that late stage, it was impossible to reschedule everything and keep the original itinerary, and that ended up converting the one-month Aus-NZ vacation to a 17-day NZ-only vacation.

And that is how the trip came about happening..

NZlogo

Preparing for New Zealand

There are popular destinations where several of one’s friends have travelled, or one knows many people residing there, and can take tips. New Zealand was not quite like that.

Few friends had visited (and I certainly got tips from them) but otherwise, it was left for me to do my own research, on the web. Combined with tips from a few friends and the web research, I was able to identify a decent itinerary for NZ.

This covered landing into Auckland, and driving from there in North Island, across various intermediate places, and down up to Christchurch in South Island, from where we’d fly back.

mapWhile one can use road and air to go across the country in New Zealand, one of the popular ways to see the country, is by road. The reason being that, there are several interesting locations right across the length of the country, and one can plan for a schedule that goes from one place to the next, by road, and thereby cover the entire country well. Moreover, driving on New Zealand roads is easy, for an Indian driver, and it is almost a pleasure to do a self-drive tour of New Zealand. So that is what we decided to do.

Then there were decisions related to travelling into NZ and out of it, the car rental within NZ, and where to stay in each place, etc.

In terms of air travel, my tickets were already booked into Australia, as per the original itinerary, and also combined with the fact that there are better connections to Sydney or Melbourne, than to NZ cities, I stuck to the same entry point. We had chosen to fly Qantas, via Singapore, where in fact, the Mumbai-Singapore sector was on Jet Airways, on a Qantas code-share.

So now had to figure out best option to get from Sydney to Auckland, and then from Christchurch back to Sydney.

Online research showed up several options including Qantas, Virgin Australia, JetStar, Tiger Air and Air NZ. Online research was necessary to find the best deals and we zeroed in on JetStar finally, as the airline of choice, to go from Sydney to Auckland, and then from Christchurch back to Sydney.

As for the car rental options within New Zealand, again, it was a matter of online research. I found Apex Car Rentals to have good options, easy to find the details that one needed, and also prompt and clear in responding to email queries. After making the original booking with them, I needed to make changes on 3 occasions, and all of those were smoothly done, with no friction at all. It was a pleasure to work with a service provider of this kind.

278With Apex Car Rentals, one needs to choose the vehicle, the plan, add accessories, the dates, the pick up and drop off point, whether one is taking the car across from North to South Island (on ferry), and give your credit card details. The card is not charged at time of booking, but only when you actually rent the car, after reaching the pick up point.

What I would recommend specifically, in regards to car rental, is to pick the right size of the vehicle. If you are doing (like we were), say 15+ days of travel, in the car, you would also be carrying bags to cover that kind of travel. Ensure that there is enough space in the trunk to accommodate your luggage, and then there is enough space to be comfortable, for all of the travellers. Also ensure that it is a vehicle that you can manage to drive. While a motor home / camper vehicle may seem interesting to use, you need to be sure that you can manage to drive a heavier vehicle. Also in that case, you’d ideally like to have multiple drivers in your group, so a driver does not get stressed out. Finally, if you are thinking in terms of a camper, you must recognise the need to look for, and park at specific camper locations, where you can refill your water and other supplies, and also clear your bathrooms, etc. That does take a little extra toll, and you also lose the flexibility that a simple car provides you. So weigh those pros and cons before deciding on a camper vehicle vs a car.

What I also cannot overemphasise is the need for the GPS unit, in the car. This is offered as an optional additional accessory. It is definitely worth the money to ask for that one, and get it. As one drives around New Zealand, at close to 100 kmph, there is no way that a navigator sitting next to you, with printed maps, can cope up with the turns and the bypasses. A GPS unit, giving voice instructions and of course, a moving map, is definitely the answer. I may also add that at various places, where we drove, the cellular signal was often not there, but the GPS still functioned. So any thought of using Google Maps on your iPad instead of the GPS unit, is not such a smart idea, please note!

Anniversary and New Zealand 024We were just the four of us, and I was likely to be driving for most, if not all the time, and we opted for a simple sedan. While I had estimated trunk size to be sufficient, when I booked, by the time we reached there, and our bags were finalised, the trunk was very tight, and needed some creativity to put all luggage in there. But we managed!

Coming back to the car rental company and choice, once in New Zealand, besides cars of Apex Rental, we also spotted a lot of vehicles of Jucy Car Rental service, which must then be, one of the other very popular service providers. We did see the popular global brands like Hertz and Thrifty, but they were very few in comparison with Apex and Jucy.

Once you have your broad dates frozen, and broad itinerary done, you want to figure out the hotels at the various places. In most cases, one just needed a place to spend a night at, as one would be out and seeing the place, most of the day. And yet, you do need a good bed to lie down at, a clean room, good bathroom, and hopefully, free Wi-fi. Additionally, as vegetarian Indians carrying some food items as backup supplies (to restaurants, etc.), if you get a kitchenette with your room, it is a good bonus.

Motels work well, in such cases. Also as one travels from one small place to the next in NZ, motels are indeed, the most likely place where you will stay. And several of these motels offer kitchenettes too.

New Zealand is not cheap, one must appreciate. If you compare with the US, you would find all costs, like car rentals, air fares and hotels, to be little more expensive, for the same quality. That may primarily be because there are fewer people and a lesser business, from which people still need to make a living. So the per capita spends go up, to cover that!

That overall fact being accepted and recognised, as you look for hotel options, you can find a wide range of places and prices. That’s when you dig in to see what really works for you. You want to be sure the location is not too far off. You want to see some pictures so you know the real feel, beyond just words of description. And perhaps, you want to see some reviews. Perhaps. Once those are taken care of, you look at the best price.

Enquiries of this kind can be done on a whole host of sites. And they are not too different from each other. So you need to find one which gives you comfort. For me, that turned out to be hotels.com.

hotelsdotcomEasy to find places, terms well laid out, searching options was easy, and in most cases, either I did not need to prepay, or full-refund cancellations were possible, till almost the last day. Then there were advantages like getting one free night for every 10 nights booked, etc. So with all that, did all of my bookings via hotels.com. And since my program went through a few changes, it helped to have that flexibility of easy cancellations.

One thing to watch out for, while looking for hotels, is to see specifically, that the room has its own private bathroom. Several cheaper options may look good in all other respects, but you might have not realised, and they may actually NOT have a private bathroom for the room. Unless you are comfortable to go and use a common bathroom in the corridors, also frequented by others who are staying at the hotel, you would want to have a private bathroom in your hotel room. So ensure that you look for the clear mention of this, as you search for your perfect hotel room!

We were four of us, and it helped to look for and find, a room for four pax. That was definitely cheaper than 2 rooms for 2 pax. I did not find those options everywhere, but wherever I did, it was useful to get the price benefit. Plus, when we used those kinds of rooms, in most cases, they were extremely nice and roomy, with a few of them, even being large suites, in fact! Across the country, the average cost per room that I got was about NZ$150 per night, but that included a huge skew to a very expensive rate, on Dec 31st and 1st Jan, when we were in Fox Glacier and Queenstown areas.

A few other things to keep in mind while planning the trip:

1. The Indian driving license works just fine, to rent cars in New Zealand. Although, I took the effort to get an international driving permit, it was not even found to be necessary, as they did not ask for it. Make sure you carry your Indian license with you, if you intend to drive in NZ.

2. The visa takes a few days to come, and demands a fair amount of paperwork. Budget for the time to get it, if you are planning a trip.

With all this preparation, we were set for New Zealand and couldn’t wait to get there.. !

Sanjay's iphone 362 copy

Sanjay's iphone 358

Ram-Leela (and I am not going to bother with the long form name forced on it!) could easily have been christened Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam 2.

Not in the sense of being a sequel, but having a whole lot of similarities – from a tale of romance, from a proud parent who will not allow the daughter to marry someone she loves (including the SAME dialogue, “tum mera garoor ho..”!), from the Saurashtra / Kutch base of the story, the songs and the dances, the colours and the music, the vivid pictorials of the desert, etc. I absolutely loved (continue to do so, in fact) Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, and considering that backdrop, I also liked Ram-Leela, though of course, it was nowhere close to the original HDDCS.

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Highlights of the film for me, in 7 points below:

1. The film has the Sanjay Leela Bhansali stamp all over. In fact, you can see it in the credits to begin with. From editing to screenplay, production, direction, and even the music, its Sanjay Leela Bhansali all over. The rich sets, the colourful clothes, folk music and dance, etc. all bear his stamp.. and his class!

2. The story / plot / theme has been done before. SLB gives credit for inspiration to Romeo and Juliet in the titles. That may be the case, but there is again a unique way of presenting the same plot / story, and which SLB does well. In addition to HDDCS, there are shades of Virasat, QSQT among others..

3. My forefathers come from Saurashtra. I have not spent any decent time in Saurashtra, but I am fascinated by the place, and like in HDDCS, SLB brings out the richness of the culture really well. I love the traditional clothing (of men and women), the music (nagara and dhol to the fore), the dances (yes, amazing garbas), the beautiful visuals of the desert stretching out far and wide, the language, the names, etc. All of these tug at my heart, as there are few films that actually focus on Gujarat and Saurashtra and Kutch, to any extent.

4. Supriya Pathak has a brilliant role. She’s clearly an actress who has been grossly under-utilised by industry. After noteworthy supporting roles in films like Bazar, Sarkar, Wake Up Sid and the slapstick comedy, Khichdi (on TV and on the big screen), she’s got a big opportunity here, and plays an extremely strong character of Dhankorba, very competently. (I remember my childhood days, and vacations spent at Balodyan near 5-gardens, run by Supriya’s mama, Dr. Vipin Gandhi, and where, I had the occasion to work with Supriya, on some puppet shows that we did together!).

5. SLB ground his teeth with Vidhu Vinod Chopra, assisting him on films like Parinda and 1942-A Love Story. One thing I’ve admired about Vidhu Vinod Chopra is his ability to get his heroines look their best (for the films he directed). SLB has learnt that well. From Manisha in Khamoshi to Aishwarya and Madhuri and others, SLB excels in bringing out the inner beauty of his heroines. Does so again with Deepika here. And also makes her emote well, and dance really well too!

6. In Ranveer, we have a solid actor, who puts is hard work and dedication to do justice to his character. Had liked him a lot in Band Baaja Baraat, and he was not lacking here as well.

7. I am sure SLB and team would have agonised about the end. And I am not sure if they picked the best option. Like in case of Sholay, the end will continue to be debated for this film as well. As I don’t want to spoil it for those who have not seen it yet, won’t say more here.

In summary, I would say that SLB has made better films in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (his best), Black and Khamoshi. But would rate Ram-Leela as a good one too, perhaps as his 4th best one. I never like Devdas as a movie that much, though I had enjoyed individual performances there!

At a time when decent movies are rare to come by, I would rate Ram-Leela as one that makes the cut, and would recommend seeing it.