Wednesday 21 March 2012

Adventure sports

Jump off a helicopter, a plane or a stone wall, take your appetite for adventure to absurd levels with these ultimate adventure sports.

Drive an Formula 1 car
Where: Las Vegas, France
How: If you have ever harboured a dream to some day drive an actual Formula One racing car, snap out of it, because it has been transferred to real time. A handful of driving schools in North America offer this inimitable experience of a lifetime. The beginner’s course starts with track initiation courses for first timers, where you accompany a skilled driver on board a two-seater Formula 1 car and feel the power of late braking, trajectory precision and acceleration. If you’re need for speed is not satiated, you can take it a notch higher and go for an advanced course that allows you to get into the cockpit of an F1 with the identical features of a World Championship model: V8 engine, telemetry, anti-skid system, etc. If you’re plain greedy and you have money that surpasses all boundaries, you could find yourself driving a genuine F1 V10 or the Peugeot 905—World Champion and winner of the 24-Hour endurance race at Le Mans—on the Paul Ricard HTTT Circuit, which has up until now only been available for private test drives. In all likelihood, you will first have to drive the F1 V8s before taking the wheel of one of the most powerful cars (780 hp) ever made available on a driving course: PROST, ARROWS or PEUGEOT 905, all three powered by their original V10 engines in racing configuration. And if these courses seem too daunting for your taste, you can opt for customised courses that are tweaked to fulfil your unique requirements. Some schools even offer courses for team building exercises and seminars. You can also avail of a range of additional services such as photo shoots, conference rooms and a heliport. So much for wishful thinking eh?
Cost: $4,000 onwards
For more information: In Las Vegas and France

J Weccardt for Stock Xchng

What: Bungee jumping
Where: 007 Bungy Jumping Center, Ticino, Switzerland
How: For the most thrilling, heart-in-the-mouth 7 ½ seconds of your life, try bungee jumping from the highest point in the world. At 722 feet, the jump along the wall of the Verzasca dam in Switzerland is the ultimate adventure. Alternatively called the Golden Eye Jump, it has been lodged in history and entertainment journals alike for being James Bond’s jump. Pierce Brosnan took the plunge while filming the hit flick, and here’s your chance to relive a historic moment. I bet you’re getting goose bumps just reading this.
Cost: It costs €170 the first time, and is half price if you do it again on the same day.
For more information: Trekking Team

Roli Seeger for Stock Xchng

What: Heli-skiing
Where: Nepal, Himachal Pradesh, Greece
How: If you’re bored of plain ‘ol skiing, jump off a helicopter. With a promise of a scream-worthy moment of pure exhilaration, Heli-skiing adds that little edge to an already adventurous sport. Instead of a ski lift, tour organisers transport the skiers via a helicopter to remote slopes for downhill skiing. If you’re a seasoned skier, this is a welcome challenge. What elevates the experience is that it allows you to choose your terrain and preferred conditions. This particularly works well for people who are not keen on hiking into certain areas, as done in ski mountaineering or ski touring. Aside from the time the hiking consumes, it can also be immensely tiring, especially because you would then be carrying all your gear along as well. One of the prime requirements, apart from good physical fitness, is intermediate training in skiing. It’s important you do a number of ski runs before taking this up, as ski resort terrains are often altered to enable fun ski rides for skiers on vacation. It is recommended you choose a licensed heli-skiing operator and take an experienced guide along, as it’s an extreme sport and appropriate caution must be taken.
Cost: €5,500 onwards
For more information: Heliski Nepal; Himachal Heli Adventures

By Craig Calonica
What: Skydiving
Where: Gujarat, Nepal
How: Jumping off an airplane and free-falling at 120 miles an hour from an altitude of at least 10,000 feet instills an adrenaline rush that is unmatchable by any other adventure sport. But it is the feeling of floating mixed with the rush of air against your face that makes you feel free as a bird. With the exception of going back up in the air, a skydiver can perform an assortment of aerial manoeuvres before deploying a parachute to slow their descent. What elevates the experience further is the otherwise elusive 360 degree view of the Earth below that you are privy to only when seated in an airplane; that too has its limitations. For a first-time skydiver, the tandem jump is ideal. It involves jumping out of the plane while attached via a harness to an instructor who wears a parachute big enough for two people. Since it requires marginal training, you can just sit back and enjoy the ride, while the instructor handles the technical details of the dive. So, if you’re prepared to experience a moment that is both terrifying and exhilarating, take the plunge!
Cost: Rs. 10,000-20,000
For more information: Indian Sky Jumpers

Friday 16 March 2012

Life without technology...

Ever wondered what life would be without technology? Here's what I discovered...

Giving up technology and living life as in medieval times sounds exciting in theory, but would it be that much fun? Maybe the elaborate vintage costumes would amuse you for a while, but then what? Go to war as the Mughals did? Let’s face it. Most people in those times went to war out of sheer boredom. I mean, they didn’t exactly have fun activities to indulge in, except maybe the ones that include reproduction. Let’s be honest: if they had the Xbox 360, they’d probably cosy up indoors and play Mortal Kombat or Halo. There would be no bloodshed, no one would have to die, they’d save a lot of money on the heavy artillery needed for war and the women would get more leisure time for their milk and rose-petal-soaked bath. 

Goodbye civilisation... - by

Giving in to curiosity, I took it upon myself to discover what life would be like without technology. What would happen if I didn’t check my emails for a week? Would my plants in Farmville survive if I didn’t water them? Will readers stop following my blog if I didn’t update it for a few days? Would I be haunted by the hundreds of text messages that would pour in while I’m off the grid? Most of you are probably already shuddering at the mere thought! But play along, because I did give it all up—well, for a week anyway.

On Day 1 of my tech-less life, I woke up at 1p.m.; so much for switching off the alarm. I now wondered why I was awake at all, considering I could no longer use my cell phone, computer, TV, radio, MP3 player, refrigerator, microwave or geyser. Well, I decided I might as well make the best out of this kind gift. So I went back to sleep.

After my second awakening, the wondrous vision of meditation came to mind. So I began to focus on attaining peace and nirvana. No less than five minutes went by and my evil twin, restlessness, took over; breaking my already weak connection with the almighty. My twitching fingers—obviously withdrawal symptoms from a lack of texting and typing—needed something to do. So I took up knitting; the good thing is I now have a back-up career.

Day 2 saw me head to work, which was pointless, really. With no computer, I had to write my articles on paper, all the while praying that my shoddy handwriting would be understood. I was flooded by disgustedly shocked looks from every passerby; my purpose of being at work was becoming a frequently asked question. Someone sarcastically even suggested I make a placard stating my reasons. Not being able to text, tweet or blog, I knitted my grievances.

Days 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 were almost the same: Sleep, read, eat, drink, and sleep. The nights proved more interesting. I was either being eaten by giant evil cellphones, or being sucked into vast computers in a whirlpool. Some even took dramatic twists like this one: Fed up of living a replica of Fred Flintstone’s life, one fine day I return to the real world only to find my Second Life avatar had replaced me. In fact, she was a better, new and improved me, with 800 new friend invites on Facebook, 999 new followers on Twitter and an inbox flooded with praises and compliments. Pop! Back to reality.

Turns out, life today is incomplete without the incessant BBM-ing, SMS-ing, obsessive tweeting and frequent attempts at beautifying our Facebook farms. 

The first five people to send me ‘Welcome Back’ gifts on Facebook will receive chocolate cakes, and the next five will get personalised hugs. To view the list of winners, log on to Facebook, Twitter or G-talk.

Monday 12 March 2012

How to get noticed at the Golden Globes

This January, I was privy to the prestigious Golden Globe awards 2012. With the entire American film industry present at this grand award function in Hollywood, it is easy to be lost in a crowd. But do not worry, I am about to reveal a fool-proof 12-step programme—which is certainly not anonymous (and in no particular order)—that will secure your place among the über elite.

1) Wear at least 4-inch heels (higher will also do): With shoes so high you’re sure to feel on top of the world. But you know what they say about being at the top; you’re guaranteed to fall down. And when you do, you’ll need to be cradled in strong arms. See where I’m going with this?
Quick tip: I highly recommend you pick a good location to walk by, such as outside the Men’s Room. 

2) Stare directly at a celebrity: So you’re walking around, gazing at the stars till you find one who shines the brightest. Stop. Stare. Keep staring with a star-struck expression or emulate a puppy dog, the celebrity will surely stare back at you, unable to resist your stare, I mean gaze.

John Stamos (formerly seen in Full House). Told you it was a fool-proof programme.

3) Look ‘different’: Colour your hair with an in-your-face pink or green and I guarantee you’ll get noticed. Alternatively, you could also wear a dress with a string of really bright lights.

Have you met Ted? You can, if you got pink. (Josh Radnor from How I Met Your Mother)

4) Pretend to be dumb: Walk up to the celebrity’s table; then softly take one hand and lightly scratch your head (like a monkey), flutter your eyelashes at the speed of five flutters a second and say, “Oh gosh, I think I’m at the wrong table; I must have forgotten my seat.” Make sure to blush profusely. Add a little-girl-giggle too. Alternatively, you could also dye your hair blonde for added impact.

5) Talk in an accent: If there’s anything we’ve learned from Sofia Vergara (shame on you if you don’t know her as Gloria from popular TV series Modern Family) during this year’s Golden Globes, it is that speaking in an accent equals sexy. So speak loudly in an Indian accent and you’re sure to raise curiosity, urging people to find out who you are.
Quick tip: Show a little cleavage; it seems to help.

The gorgeous Sofia Vergara

6) Make a celebrity drop a drink on you: Being a drama queen can really prove beneficial here. It is such a simple, yet brilliant idea. Just bump into a celebrity ‘by mistake’ and drop your drink on yourself. They will then apologise several times. When they do, show them how upset you are—devastated even—and how expensive your outfit is. They will then offer to pay for your outfit. In a nutshell, you will now be the proud owner of their personal phone number.

7) Go to the women’s restroom and be patient: Stay on in your stall even after doing your business and listen intently to all the conversations outside your stall. Then, use that intimate information to make friends with those celebrities. What to do if people knock on the stall door? Don’t fret. Get out and re-touch your makeup. You really need to start thinking for yourself you know.

8) Be a scene stealer: There’s nothing actors appreciate more than a good scene with impeccable acting skills. Scream loudly during the award ceremony (HINT: Like you just saw a ghost). The unexpected, yet attention-grabbing moment will allow you to gain instant recognition among Hollywood’s elite. Shed a tear or two; if you’re lucky, Leonardo DiCaprio may even come console you.
Quick tip: I suggest you practise several times before the big moment.

9) Be a damsel in distress: This is why blondes have all the fun. Now that you know the secret, learn to apply it well. Let me get you started:
a) Zip down your dress and then ask for help to close it up.
b) Pretend that you don’t know how to use your own camera; men love to show off their knowledge of technology.
c) Pull up your gown from your foot to your knee, as if you’re looking for something. Did you learn nothing from Angelina Jolie’s leg?

Do I really need to label this one?

10) If anyone asks who you are, say you’re an Indian movie actress: Walk like you own the place; swish your hair wildly, pose for the cameras and blow kisses at fans (so what if they don’t know you!). Most Americans don’t know Bollywood actresses beyond Aishwarya, Kareena and Mallika Sherawat, so they won’t know you, but they’ll think they ‘should’ know you. Soon enough, you’ll be talked about among all the attendees as they try to figure out who you are.
Quick tip: Remember, it is all about creating some mystery.

11) Insult a celebrity: If you REALLY want to be the talk of the town, then the quickest way is to insult a celebrity. Everyone, be it the film fraternity or the press, will want to know who is the woman who dared to raise her voice at one of their own. And BAM! You’re an instant celebrity. Eat your heart out Kim Kardashian.

12) Steal a Golden Globe; be a hero: When nothing else works, this one will. Here’s how you can get away with it:
a) Steal a Golden Globe trophy.

b) Fuel the uproar created when the organisers realise it is lost.
c) Then, magically find it and return it to the organisers.
d) You’re a hero; the one who saved the night from a disastrous situation.

Claire Danes' Golden Globe trophy (currently seen in Homeland; formerly known as Juliet to Leonardo DiCaprio's Romeo) 

Now all you need is an invite to a prestigious award function. How to get one? Keep following this blog...

Saturday 10 March 2012

Christmas treats!

Christmas is my favourite holiday and I spent last Christmas in the USA (New York and Pennsylvania) gorging on yummy festive treats. From cookies and cupcakes to an entire house, straight from the Victorian era, made only of chocolate, this season was the most delicious ever! Here are some of those yummy sweets:

Chocolate cupcakes with vanilla buttercream at the Magnolia bakery, Rockefeller Centre

M&Ms in special Christmas packaging at the  M&M store at Times Square

Cookies with festive icing and tiny Hershey's kisses at the Hershey's Chocolate World in Pennsylvania 

A grand Victorian house that stands 12 feet tall and occupies 100 square feet is covered with a ton of Hershey's chocolate and confection products. Seen at the Hershey's Chocolate World in Pennsylvania  

A traditional gingerbread house. Seen at a Macy's store.

Chocolate cupcakes topped with tiny gingerbread men at the Little Cupcake Bakeshop, at 30, Prince Street

Saturday 3 March 2012

The Great American Dream - How to plan a trip to the United States of America

It was around the first week of December. I had just quit my job of three years. It had only been a few days, and already I was showing withdrawal symptoms. I was edgy all too often, restless; slowly displaying just a tiny bit of insanity. The only thing that kept me standing on that tightrope was thoughts of travelling. I watched TLC and Fox Traveller for hours. But more than David Rocco’s Italian food and Paul Merton’s Indian escapades, I was more interested in Unusual Restaurants in USA, Lonely Planet Six Degrees – New York, Fabulous Cakes in Las Vegas and Bodacious Bakeries in USA. Okay, maybe I was just hungry and lusting for food I couldn’t have. However, I was also lusting for a trip I deemed ‘impossible’ at the time. Having heard tons of stories detailing the various levels of difficulty that the much coveted American visa proposes, I assumed that the desire to visit USA wasn’t going to be fulfilled any time soon. So I spent my time ‘sighing’ at every one of these shows, unaware that the universe was already plotting to prove me wrong. Such ego. Tsk tsk.

Impossible is possible

In 2009, a few days before Barack Obama officially took residence at the White House, he said, "Anything is possible in America." How true. After all, he is the first black American president. Besides, how else can you explain the rising popularity of the Kardashians, women willing to sleep with Justin Bieber and presidents who can read books upside down? Really, ‘anything’ is possible in America. And just like that, I was hit with this cliché. I bagged a pass to the Golden Globe awards that were to take place in Los Angeles this past January. How? Because I’m so amazingly awesome that they couldn’t resist inviting this incredibly talented Indian girl to the second most popular film and television award ceremony in USA. You’re laughing, aren’t you? Wonder why I’m not going to reveal my sources...

Obama: Born in the USA - by Surian Soosay, Flickr

So I finally got the chance to explore a country I hoped for long to visit. From the first time I saw Sleepless in Seattle, I knew some day I wanted to make it at the observation deck of the Empire State building in New York City.

Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan at the Empire State building's observation deck, in Sleepless in Seattle

I’d made a mental list of places I wanted to visit in the future whenever I’d seen glimpses captured in films and television shows, such as the ice skating scene in Serendipity shot at the Wollman’s Rink at Central Park, the iconic water fountain show at Las Vegas’ Bellagio Hotel in Ocean’s Eleven, the diner featured in Seinfeld, Chandler’s visit to the Statue of Liberty in Friends, Ted’s enthusiasm of the amazing Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco in How I Met Your Mother, and so many more. 

John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale in

Matthew Perry in Friends

But most of all, I really wanted to be in New York for Christmas, just to see the 74-foot Christmas tree at the Rockefeller Center.

And so, as soon as I got my visa on December 21, I planned a 50-day trip within two days.

How to plan a 50-day trip in 2 days

Since this limited time prevents you from etching a full-fledged plan for the entire trip, just stick to the basics. Chalk up a basic itinerary and plan the rest once you arrive. Here’s how I planned my trip:

1) Flight tickets: The key to booking my flight tickets was two-fold:
a. I wanted to ensure there was a stopover of at least an hour, as that would cut the total journey of approximately 20 hours into two halves giving me a much-needed break.

b. Since I was planning to leave on December 24 and still hoping to make it to New York for Christmas Eve, I had to ensure I made it in good time. So keeping in mind the different time zones, I checked flights that landed there during the day on December 24.
After hours of online research on ticket prices and several calls to various travel agents, I finally zeroed in on Lufthansa Airlines. The return trip cost: Rs. 65,000, which was the lowest price I could get being season time.

Quick tip:
If you have a fixed itinerary, book all internal flights within USA (such as New York-Los Angeles) from India itself because it is often much cheaper.

2) Accommodation: Being a solo traveller, I really enjoy staying in hostels so as to meet people from all over, under one roof. So I began scanning the usual haunts, and But since I was going to be in New York for Christmas and New Year, most hostels were packed. So, I discovered another option thanks to a friend’s suggestion: a website called From vacation rentals and plush apartments to castles and tree houses to houseboats, Airbnb offers a wide range of properties to fit various budgets. Trust me, it’s going to be tough to pass up that castle for a hostel dorm.

3) Foreign currency and travel insurance: Most often, I find this to be the last of people’s worries when they plan a trip abroad. I suppose it is based on the assumption that it can be done last minute, as even airports offer foreign exchange counters (though most often present higher rates than city shops). But from my experience, it needs to be done at least one day prior. This is why:

a. Foreign exchange: For a long trip like mine, I wanted to take more than adequate cash with me; as credit cards are charged a nominal fee for every transaction abroad, which I wanted to avoid. Most companies take cash, cheque or Demand Drafts (DD), but cash is not always possible to provide, simply because there is a limit on ATM withdrawal. While a cheque seems like a good idea, you only get your foreign currency once the cheque is cleared, which can take up to two-three days. A DD is a good idea if you know exactly the amount you want to exchange.

b. A Forex card
is a great option when travelling abroad. It works exactly like a credit card, but it is pre-paid in the foreign currency of your choice. You also get an ATM pin in case you need cash when you’re there, and an internet banking pin for online transactions.
Caution – Some stores don’t recognise Forex cards, nor do airports (for transactions like excess baggage) in which case it is a good option to keep a credit card handy, so that you can use it only where necessary.

c. Travel insurance is mandatory so make sure you get yours done. It doesn’t cost much. A one-month trip is likely to cost you approximately Rs. 500-600. Companies like Thomas Cook offer most services at one place, so you can get your foreign exchange and insurance at the same time.

4) International SIM card:  Usually I don’t care if I have data services enabled on my BlackBerry simply because it is less distracting for me while I travel. However, since I was going to attend the Golden Globes, I wanted to ensure I could constantly update my friends and family about the event. So, I opted for a Matrix SIM card with data services for this trip. And admittingly, I’m going to enable data services on every other trip I take. In the past I’ve been comfortable enjoying my trip more or less off the grid with regard to technology, but this time I truly enjoyed staying in touch and sharing the sights and sounds I experienced every day.
Quick tip
It is definitely cheaper to get a SIM card from India than buying one there or activating international roaming on your current phone number. In addition, it works all through USA.

5) Go in blind: Aside from planning a basic framework of the destinations I knew I was going to visit, I didn’t plan anything else. I decided to figure out things to do and see once I got there. And I have to say, it was a great idea. It was a lot of fun to wake up and decide on something random. I spent a whole day on a bakery hunt in New York, just to find some yummy pastries, and another just walking in a circle to and from one chosen station in San Francisco. It led to the discovery of some of the sweetest little nooks and corners of these cities that don’t often come wrapped in a guidebook.

Did you know?
If you’re a first-time traveller to USA like me, then you should know the following:

1. Most local airlines charge for luggage, even if it is just one piece. So be prepared to shell out $20-40.
2. Luggage carts are charged too, $5. Suddenly grateful you live in India? You may as well be.
3. There are cameras everywhere. I’m serious. You’ll be followed by Big Brother literally till you enter a restroom. Even the restroom booth doors are oddly spaced out allowing people to sneak a peek. Talk about no privacy.
4. Carry a multi-pin plug. This one is a must.
5. Most fast food portions are interpreted like this: Small (means large), Medium (means extra large) and Large (means extra, extra large). So if you’re appetite is as little as mine, then a small bagel or cupcake will suffice as a meal.