The festivities of a New Year never fail to lift my spirits. It is that time of the year, when one stops to look back and than ahead, with a mixture of hope and renewed vigour. As the old year slips into oblivion and we celebrate the new one I thought I would look back and reminisce about some of the wonderful places I have been to in the year 2008.
The year saw me traveling both on work as well as on vacations with family. In January, I visited Oman on work. I barely made it as my passport needed renewal and had to be organised at the last minute. The Omani authorities in Delhi worked on a holiday to organise a last minute visa. We landed in Muscat on Jan 07 and lo and behold had a car waiting for us right besides the aircraft. We were quickly whisked into a most magnificentlounge and accorded the traditional welcome with halwaand dates. I had the honour and privilege of experiencing the legendary hospitality of our Omani hosts. We had many meetings with the Omani officials, visited their hospitals and were entertained like visiting royalty. I would always remember the most wonderful banquet hosted by Shaikh Hilal in our honour at his palatial residence outside Muscat. And surprisingly all this, when the purpose of our visit was to solicit business for Artemis from the various arms of the government of Oman.
In May and than in July I traveled to Kabul, Afghanistan. The first visit in May also involved traveling to Panjshir Valley on an excursion. The road to the valley is along the fast flowing Panjshir river. Panjshir reminded me of the valley of Kashmir in north India. It is lush, with every conceivable shade of green and clear flowing water everywhere surrounded by towering snow covered mountains. We were welcomed by our Afghan hosts and friends in their homes in this paradise and offered hospitality from the heart. We also discovered the respect and affection most Afghans have for India and things Indian. Sadly, we also saw the terrible wages of war everywhere we went, hollowed buildings and scarred landscapes standing mute testimony to the destruction wrought by continuous warfare for decades.
The visit in July was marred by a bomb blast at the Indian embassy on July the 7th. The Safi Hotel located a stone’s throw away shook as if hit by a rocket. We were having our breakfast on the top floor and rushed on to the roof to see smoke billowing out of a building not too far away, later identified as the Indian embassy. Not less than an hour before, during my morning constitutional I had stood outside the embassy at the very spot, where terrorists rammed a car laden with explosives into the gates of our embassy. We returned home in a hurry a little shaken.
With in India I traveled to Guwahati and saw the huge Brahmputra flowing serenely. I also saw Kolkata for the first time and the slow moving trams and the ever leisurely pace of the city transported me to another era. I also visited Bangalore after 12 long years. I had spent 2 months in the summer of 1996 in Bangalore, when I had done my MBA summer training at ABB. The city has undergone a complete transformation. The swank airport, the drive into the city clogged with cars, the IT driven economy, with young techies living it up, has made today’s Bangalore or shall I say Bangaluru very different from the laid back version that I knew.
Vacations included a week long trip in June to Dharamshala and Mcleodgunj, the seat of HH the Dalai Lama. We stayed at a guest house in Naddi, at McLeodganj. The hills in the summers are always soothing and the calm that suffuses the abode of the Dalai Lama can only be experienced. In August, we traveled to Laddakh, a holiday that I was really keen on. Laddakh in a word is awesome. The river Indus, the cradle of Indian civilisation flows swiftly down from the great mountains in Tibet to the Arabian Sea. We drove along the river, went up to KhardungLa the highest motorable pass in the world and than onwards to the magical Nubra Valley. We saw the spiritual side of Ladakkh, while visiting ancient and timeless Buddhist monastries.
What has the New Year in store for me is difficult to fathom. My only wish would be to travel more, get to see new places, meet more people and enjoy the voyage of discovery that each trip really is.