What happens in Vegas – Super Sundays – Weekly Blog

My first international trip was to Las Vegas in November 2014. Never in my wildest of dreams did I imagine that I would be going to Vegas so early in my career, at the age of 27. I was one of the 30 Area Sales Managers from across the country who had qualified for this trip organized by Mahindra for exceeding sales targets. It was a week long trip to the U.S with 2 days in LA and 4 nights in Vegas. Till date, the memories of this trip are fresh in my mind.

Aerial View
With ex-colleagues from Mahindra Auto

Our stay in Vegas was organized at The Venetian. It was a resort cum casino. In Vegas, every place is a casino first. The ambience of all the casinos has been cleverly planned in such a way that you will never come to know the time of the day , once you get involved. The lighting stays the same all through. The noise outside is cut off, food and drinks are served at the table continuously. Everything is done to ensure that you don’t move out from the table once you are in. It is truly a different experience. When we first sat at one of the tables, we did not realize that five hours had passed by. Such is the lure and aura of the casinos in Vegas.

The Venetian , eponymously, has been modelled on Venice. There are a few artificial boatways connecting two parts of the resort. The experience at the resort was truly world-class , with easy access to all the major attractions. The Venetian is part of the Vegas Strip. The Vegas Strip is a strip of land where most of the must-see casinos and tourist attractions in Vegas are located. The Americans are gurus at marketing and it is amazing to see how a small area of land, situated amidst a desert, can generate so much income and money. It is one of the most expensive places in the world.

The Strip

Time is money in Vegas and we realized it the hard way. We want to visit one of the clubs and had asked the club for a pickup from our hotel at 9 pm. Typical Indian time of 9 pm means at least a delay of 15 to 20 minutes. When all of us had come down by 9:20 pm, the driver promptly gave us a mouthful saying time is money and refused to take us. He said he waited just to ensure he could convey this and also lodged a complaint with the club saying time was not honoured by us. From then onwards, we became careful and would only call taxis once we were all ready.

While Vegas is rightly called “ Sin City” because of its nightlife dominated by casinos and strip clubs along with related indulgences , there is another side to Vegas, which is not spoken of in the same breath. Vegas is also a great destination for families and kids (yes you are reading this correct) and there are enough activities to keep families and kids engaged. Every evening , there is an artificial volcanic eruption around 7 pm at The Strip and it is a sight to watch. There is a musical fountain which plays every hour in the night and crowds gather to watch this beautiful sight. The Strip also boasts of replicas of the likes of the Taj Mahal and the Eiffel Tower. We had gone up 470 floors in a lift and watched the beautiful fountains from the top of the Eiffel Tower replica. Vegas also is a hotbed for arts and culture, hosting several popular plays, shows and concerts all round the year. The best in the business come and perform at the various theatres here. We had watched a show by an acrobatic troupe at the MGM Grand and it was a marvellous performance. The Strip also hosts a Harley Davidson café and a Madame Tussauds. For the adventure freaks, there is a casino called Stratosphere, which hosts a few thrilling rides on the topmost floor. For a few extra bucks, there is also a helicopter ride which will give an aerial view of the city. The Grand Canyon and the Hoover Dam are a few hours drive from Vegas. We also rented a limousine ride and it was quite an experience.

The fountain.. viewed from the Eiffel Tower
The replica of the Statue of Liberty
The Harley Davidson Cafe

The highlight attraction is undoubtedly Fremont Street. This is a tiny street frequented by people of all ages all through the night. It is lively and always buzzing and has everything for everyone. There is a ride called SlotZilla where you can zip-line through from end of the street to the other. There are street performances daily and it is a unique experience and you can keep walking in and out of every shop. Clothing, accessories, souvenirs, food – you get everything you need to shop at every price point here. I was pleasantly surprised to see families enjoying themselves in hordes here.

With Wax Britney at Madame Tussaud’s Vegas

We spent 4 days in Vegas but this was not enough. This is true with most international locations but all the more with Vegas. A one-of-its kind destination, which everyone should experience at some point in their life. I must consider myself lucky that I got to experience this early and hopefully, will visit this place, once again at some point in time. I will not comment on the Sin City related experiences, because………

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What Happens in Vegas …Stays in Vegas 😊

Jai Hind

Bentota – Galle – Colombo – Sri Lanka Unplugged -Super Sundays – Weekly Blog

When I first visited Sri Lanka (2015), I never imagined in my wildest of dreams that I would be visiting every successive year. 3 times in 4 years, it was part of my organization’s conference/off-site. In Nov 2017, it was our first anniversary. I can easily pass of as a tour-guide here. I have the looks, experience of 4 visits and speak Tamil. For the first three years, God ensured that I visited the same places in the same order – Colombo, Bentota and Galle. We used to land in Colombo, drive to Bentota, head to Galle and then come back to Colombo. Car works best as it takes 3 hours between these cities.

We woke up to this view 🙂
Sri Lankan sunset

Sri Lanka is an inspiration. A war-ravaged nation, their GDP per capita (World bank data) is higher than India. A highly forward-looking country, Prius hybrid vehicles ply aplenty, thanks to a strong Electric Vehicle policy. A very clean nation – locals take great pride in cleanliness.  Tourism is their biggest bet to advance their economy. It’s a very safe country (A high volume of Europeans and Americans visit them all through the year) and a very affordable international destination. A lot of Indians feel it’s an extended version of Kerala due to the similarities in weather and culture. But beyond this, it’s a beautifully unique island nation.

Colombo can give any world class capital city a run for its money. Driving on the stunning Marine Drive coastline ( Indian Ocean) is quite an experience. With pristine beaches, Colombo also has a lot of casinos, an underrated but classy nightlife. A great culinary destination,  Mahela Jayawardene’s  Ministry of Crab is a foodie’s delight. Colombo is also home to a one-of-its kind Cricket Club Café, which was started by two Australians. Apart from amazing burgers, this resto-café also has a lot of cricket memorabilia like gloves, bats, hats used by greats like Gavaskar, Warne, Ranatunga and Bradman. Taj Samudra and Hilton Colombo can compete with any global 5 star property. One of the hidden gems is the Galle Face Hotel ( since 1864). We stayed there on our first anniversary and  having a lunch staring at the Indian Ocean made our anniversary extra special. Colombo has a unique sea-plane ride, which starts off from a lake and gives you a 20-minute birds eye view of the capital. Shopaholics can go to Odel for value-for-money clothing .

Galle Face Hotel, Colombo ( since 1864)

2 hours from Colombo is Bentota island. Going for a 4 hour boat safari through the backwaters is a soothing experience. Lucky Boat Safari, was truly lucky for us as for the first time in my life, as we felt that we had the whole backwaters to ourselves. We heard the echo of cuckoos chirping away, a-la tuning fork experiment and were spell-bound by the reflection of the trees in the crystal-clear waters. A tiny crocodile sat on my shoulder and I conquered my fear of baby crocodiles. Fish-therapy was one of the other attractions in this boat safari. Kumara, our host in a homestay, was one of the sweetest ever. Bentota also offers a lot of water sports. We were blown away by Centara Seysands. The entrance from the reception of this restaurant cum resort to the dining area is through a boat. Mind boggling !!! Bentota at its best..

With Kumara, our host at Riverside Inn Fuji, Bentota
Croc tales… with Lucky Boat Safari
With the Lucky man.. who proved to be our lucky charm.. Lucky Boat Safari, Bentota !!!
Our anniversary date night at the stunning Centara Seysands, Bentota… The boat ride from the reception to the restaurant made a special day extra special !!

From Bentota, another 2 to 3 hours away is Galle. On the way to Galle, lies Hikkaduwa. The Tsunami Education Centre, Museum and Memorial at Hikkudawa makes one accept the reality that there is no human force above Mother Nature. It’s a heart-wrenching experience. The way the Lankans have recovered is admirable.

The Tsunami Museum at Hikkaduwa
The Buddha statue at the tsunami affected site in Hikkaduwa, built to protect against future natural disasters

Galle is a beautiful city. In size, smaller than South Mumbai but in majesty, taller than many. A former Dutch colony with a jaw-dropping fort-cum-shopping centre-cum-food street overlooking the sea. It’s the perfect destination for people to just laze around, read a book, write a poem. Time passes by quickly, yet slowly depending on your mood. Some great sea-food joints and bakeries dot the small mini-coastline. The cricket stadium overlooking the sea is one of the most picturesque in the world. No wonder the Sri Lankan cricket team plays a flair filled brand of cricket !!!

View from the resto-bar , Galle sea face
The stone paved streets of Galle make you do this 🙂
There’s always light ( house)…even if there is no tunnel 🙂

In 3 of my 4 visits, my Sri Lanka itinerary was Colombo-Bentota-Galle. But I loved this as each time, there was something new to explore. For the 4th visit , I was hoping I could explore the beautiful greenery of Nuwara Elya, Kandy and Sigiriya. Basis our experience, my mother-in-law has already fixed a family Sri Lanka trip, which will be my 5th in 5 years and give me permanent tourist guide status!!! I wanted to visit the unexplored parts in my 4th visit, but I knew it was not in my hands as it was a company sponsored conference.

I had a pleasant surprise when the HR lady revealed the 3 night,4-day itinerary. It also strengthened my belief about destiny attracting you to the places you love. The HR lady told –“This time we are seeing 3 unique places in Sri Lanka..” I was secretly smiling that God had granted my secret wish of exploring the unexplored Nuware Elya, Kandy Belt. I guess HR has the last laugh in any organization as she announced  –“ Folks, we are going to visit 3 exciting places

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Colombo, Bentota and Galle”

I looked up towards God and said “Hey Bhagwaan….. Lanka Lag Gayi !!”

Jai Hind

Japan’s Iconic Commode: Freaky Fridays – Weekly Blog

About a year ago, last April,7 of us went on a memorable 7 day family trip to Japan. Japan is an enigma and a must-see for travel enthusiasts. An extremely kid friendly country with huge parks and family size toilet rooms in every nook and corner of the country. Train is the cheapest mode of transport (cheap means 18,000 rupees for a one-week Japan Rail Pass !!!). The rail stations resemble malls, many having a Louis Vitton or a Gucci store. Experience Sumo wrestling live , gobble up Sushi and miso soup, stare at the Shin-juku crossing where lakhs of people cross a zebra-crossing in a minute, catch the famed Cherry blossoms in March and whiz from Tokyo to Kyoto in the famed Shinkansen ( bullet trains with speeds touching 320 km/hr). Further ahead from Kyoto is the inspirational city of Hiroshima. Hiroshima can give any world city a run for its money in terms of world-class infrastructure. As you travel around , amazed by its beauty, you will forget that this city had an atom bomb dropped … until you see the Genbaku Dome ( one of the few buildings that was left standing near ground zero). Here, you will realize why killing innocent civilians in the name of war is so grossly unfair on the affected families. The way they have quickly re-built this city makes you salute every Japanese you come across…

Japan and Germany have been most devastated by the World War 2, but the way they have leveraged technology to become the world leaders in electronics and automobiles is truly inspirational. The world’s best electronic brands – Sony, Canon, Toshiba.. along with household automobile names – Toyota, Honda, Mitsubishi all have been built after World War 2. Ruthless focus and amazing execution excellence!! Same goes with Germany – BMW, Volkswagen, Audi, SAP, Daimler, Siemens, Adidas …

However, all this technological advancement has come at a cost for the Japanese. Most Japanese are intense work-a-holics. This explains high suicide rates and an ageing population. I felt that many people here do not have time for childbirth. Therefore, Japan has a very strong family policy with child benefits. Japan also houses “cat cafes”- where people pay money and talk to cats… Yes you heard it right !!! People pour their daily lives to cats. They talk to cats as if they are talking to children.. Have you heard about this in any other country??

The Japanese are very devout by nature. All through the year, you will find the “Inaris ” filled with devotees. This part of their culture resembles India. The fox is highly revered. You see a lot of threads tied on trees-a prayer, a hope,a feeling of gratitude for a fulfilled wish..

My best memory of Japan, which will remain forever , is the Japanese commode. The Japanese commode symbolizes technological prowess.The commode has various push-buttons, each having a different functionality. My first visit to the commode was awe-inspiring. For 20 minutes, I was just zapped by the push-buttons. I tried flirting with the various push-buttons. On pressing one button, cold water started gushing out. It was quite cold in April, so in panic I pressed the next button. The water suddenly turned hot; red-hot that my skin started to burn.

In panic, I pressed the knob next to the buttons. I turned it clockwise and lo.. the water’s temperature started to change. Temperature control , like an AC; only difference is the AC is used to control the temperature of a room.. in this case the knob controls the temperature of your bum. Zapped!!!

I was looking for the sprinkler but I couldn’t find one; I hate tissue paper and I was cursing myself… until I saw two more buttons!!!

These buttons were the icing on the cake. For the first time in my life, I have compared a commode to a cake !! That’s the experience it gave me. I pressed one button and. the water hit my buttocks from the sides. I was impressed. But wait.. I pressed the second and.. Boom Boom Boom… the water gushed out from nowhere and hit my buttocks from underneath! The Japanese have used amazing technology to eliminate use of both sprinkler and  tissue paper. Pure Genius !!!

And this commode was not in a 5 star hotel. It was in a homestay in the suburbs. I saw this commode everywhere in Japan- in a train, mall, park, 5 star hotel, ferry..

The Americans and Europeans should take a leaf out of the Japanese book. These so-called innovation hubs still use tissue paper, despite knowing that 70% of the earth is water and it depletes less quickly than trees. Cannot fathom why they are stuck in the Old Stone Age and still use tissue paper when we have the amazing Japanese sprinkler-free technology. After the Japan visit, I stopped staying in all “Park” brand hotels in India as they don’t have sprinklers. I hope an Indian brand of hotels sets shop in US, Europe and uses this technology as a USP to woo guests.

If the legendary Raj Kapoor was sitting in place of me in the iconic Japanese commode last April, he would be singing..

“Mera Commode Hai Japani..Yeh Patlun English-taani,

Meri Lal TV Sony.. Phir bhi Dil hai Hindustani….”

Jai Hind