Did you know that you have hosts in 190 countries?

Where are you going?
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This time the happy hours at Indiblogger introduced me to airbnb. This website is going to help you if you have plans to travel or host. The concept of renting your place on a daily basis might have been there since long, but the way airbnb has created an attractive and easy to use platform for both the hosts and travelers, is commendable. Other than the interface and beautiful images that made me think about my next trip, the website follows a process that is very secure and makes you feel safe while you are looking for a place to stay.

One can feel the seriousness with which things are being verified while completing his profile. And the best part is, you will enjoy doing so because you are given an opportunity to add more details about you from different platforms, ranging from your name to a 30 seconds video. All this information will later help you get legitimate deals both as a traveler and a host.

While browsing the website, I noticed a search box with the caption “Where are you going?”. I started off by typing in New York because it is one of the places that I would like to visit in the coming years. To my surprise, I found hundreds of listings which were within my budget and offered me a private room. And this was not just true for my first search; I started searching for other places like London, Bangkok, Seoul and Paris. For all these places there were listings below Rs. 2500. Ranging from Rs. 989 per night in Bangkok to Rs. 2410 in London, I was happy to learn that if I arrange my flight tickets, I can book my accommodation in any of these places right now; without killing my savings. Thus, I added these listings to my wish list along with some notes which I could use later.

And the best part was that there were enough images uploaded by the hosts to make me comfortable already. And images were not the only things that I found credible, the reviews posted by guests sealed the deal for me. And the reason that I could trust these reviews was that they were connected to real people having profiles at various platforms including facebook, linkedin and more importantly a verified ID (e.g. Driving License). If you consider the amount of details that are being added and verified at each step, spamming and faking any of this information seems very difficult to me. And this is the reason, that I would suggest my friends and acquaintances to try Airbnb while planning their next trip.

And for those who are willing to host and make some friends, make sure you add enough details to your listings while being as descriptive as possible. Once again, the Airbnb tips and tutorials will help you complete the submission process.

P.S.: After you sign up, don’t forget to download the mobile app.

What is #Movember?

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November – or #Movember, as it’s increasingly known – today came to an end, and for almost 5 million around the world this means one thing: time to shave off the charity facial hair.

MovemberThe Movember Foundation is the leading global organization committed to changing the face of men’s health. They achieve this by challenging men to grow moustaches during Movember (the month formerly known as November) to spark conversation and raise funds for prostate cancer, testicular cancer and mental health problems. Watch this video to learn more:

So if you are reading this and if you appreciate the effort made by me and my fellow men, please donate by clicking https://www.movember.com/ca/donate/payment/member_id/11860033/

Bigger is better – The dawn of a new era

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Living in a country with a population of 1.25 billion, I can understand the importance of bigger vehicles and that is why I decided to write about this topic when I came across the #LufthansaA380 blogging contest.

It is time to celebrate, because the largest commercial aircraft in history is now flying to Delhi.

The most important word in the last sentence is “LARGEST“; and this word has got a huge significance in India. Especially for people like me who have been traveling in over crowded buses and trains since their childhood. I remember a number of instances when Indian public transport had taken perfect care of me. Following are a few of them:

I was traveling from Delhi to Agra in a UP roadways bus. The fact about UP roadways is, that they take complete care of their passenger’s needs; needs that we are not even aware of. For instance, the over-crowded buses make sure that we are in touch with reality and understand the importance of staying slim. Because if we turn obese, getting from a window seat to the exit door becomes a back-breaker. It also makes sure that there are enough passengers standing so that they can sweat and burn some calories. To make sure that the passengers are safe from the threat of broken glasses, they simply remove all of them. This again creates a healthy competition amongst the passengers to grab the window seat during summers. And during this process, many of them even get foot massage and acupuncture totally free of cost.

Another instance that comes to my mind is when I was coming back from Allahabad after appearing for my SSB interview. The funny thing about these interviews is that you don’t know when you will be coming back, because you can be rejected on either 1st or 5th day. So though I had made reservations for traveling to Allahabad, I could not make any advance arrangements for my return. And since I got rejected on the 5th day, my guilt did not allow me to spend extra money on Hotels and Tatkal reservations. Thus, I decided to board the next available train after buying a general ticket. This decision lead to a series of events which played a big role in increasing my patience and tolerance. The Indian railway made sure that I learn these two qualities effectively by making me travel as I was cramped between the coach’s wash-basin, two co-passengers (one sitting on my feet and the other resting on my shoulder) and some luggage. That was the moment when I first realized that there is hardly any difference between the luggage and me. Other than the difference that I can breathe, I realized that it was easier for every moving passenger to push me aside rather than pushing the luggage. Nevertheless, it gave me the perfect opportunity to think about my mistakes which led to my rejection; and I had ample amount of time too, since this journey was 11 hours long.

So Yes! I would say that bigger is definitely better. And though the situations like above may never arise in an aircraft, the Lufthansa A380 will definitely reduce the waiting time and provide a stupendous experience to it’s passengers. Do watch this video and share your thoughts while using the hashtag #LufthansaA380:

 

A healthy child makes a happy home

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The 3 musketeers

Our children can’t just block their senses

I have been volunteering with different NGOs in my country and the one thing that I have learned over the years is that a healthy child makes a happy home. We all must have heard a story or two about the love of parents for their children, but seldom do we talk or write about the happiness that children bring to their parents and other grown ups around them.

The most befitting example to prove this “theory” is that the number of volunteers who visit slum areas or shelter homes to teach the children, has always been increasing. Even if we keep aside the numbers, each and every volunteer’s basic reason for showing up was to experience the happiness that only these children could provide. I have felt it myself when I could easily forget all my worries while teaching the children in shelter homes and slums. Their purity of thoughts and innocent acts, win away your heart in no time.

While on one hand they make us happy, if we get attached to them (which we always do), this source of happiness gets replaced by source of worries, when they fall ill. And this is not just true for their parents, but also some volunteers who cannot stop themselves from thinking about the whereabouts of their student who didn’t show up.

This is the main reason that along with education we keep thriving towards the goal of having better health care facilities in slum areas. We had set up a few health camps by inviting doctors who gave sessions on topics like hygiene and healthy habits. It was beautiful to see how different NGOs who have expertise in their own domains, could work together to create an outstanding result. After organizing a few camps, we soon realized that the increase in awareness is not only required for children, but their parents as well. And that is when we started following the “each home”, instead of “each kid” approach. This meant that our efforts were now targeted towards individual families instead of individual kids; which allowed us to club our ideas into a series of actions that further ensured the overall development of a family.
Because these children are our future, we need to make sure that while we try to educate them, they are also kept safe from health problems that often arise due to simple lack of awareness. Educating parents made sure that diseases like malaria can be stopped from spreading by following the rules and guidelines which were set by these people unanimously.

The most promising results in this field were shown by an organization called DIR which has been working to improve the health conditions by helping pregnant women right till the time their children started going to school. From keeping a weekly record of the mother’s and child’s health data like weight and body mass index, they were able to identify the problems and provide timely solutions which were cheap and often included home made remedies. Today if you visit the slum in which they started working a few years ago, you will find a center which now even provides primary education and job opportunities for housewives. They have managed to bring down the infant mortality rate significantly.

All these examples simply state one fact, the best way to keep a family happy is to keep its children healthy. You can not expect these children to learn or show interest in activities when they are sick. You can not expect a father to work with a piece of mind if he knows that he needs to get back home sooner to take care of his sick kid. You can not expect a mother to cook or take care of house chores with excellence if she is broken from inside. You can not expect a volunteer to teach kids and get good results in a slum where 80 percent of children are malnutrition-ed.

P.S.: This post was inspired by Dabur Chyawanprash blogging contest.

Inspired by fragrance

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When I woke up this Sunday morning, I got inspired by the fragrance of rain. Right then I decided to go for a short trip on my bike and celebrate monsoon.

It started with an hour long delay which gave us the chance to visit Chandi Mandir.
Then it was followed by another hour of haphazard turns and rather U-turns while we tried to figure out an alternative route to Barsati nadi. (A river that flows during monsoon)

As we took the 4th U-turn; finally we decided to choose a simpler destination and headed towards Kasauli. With numerous stops and click breaks, we reached the point in Kasauli, where our bikes were stopped by the army soldiers and we were advised to walk.

The walk turned into hike, and hike turned into a trek, which had a few moments of mountain climbing too.
Mountain ClimbingOn reaching the top of the hill, we realized that we were surrounded by clouds and the air was so fresh that we even enjoyed breathing. Moved with the beauty around us, we started clicking more pictures in different poses. One of them is called, “Sab Idhar Udhar dekho” pose; AKA Everybody should look in different directions.

After exhausting the camera’s battery and storage limit, we came back while having bargain burgers from Hot Millions; accompanied with tea from Sharma Dhaba.
And while we were discussing, how come it didn’t rain since morning; it started raining cats and dogs!

It was an adventurous and memorable trip with my wife, school-mate and 3 musketeers. 🙂

P.S.: This post is a part of #InspireAFragrance contest at Indiblogger.

GOT LEH’D IN JUST 109 HOURS

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Disclaimer: Such trips exhaust you enough to get mountain sickness and insomnia.

We all respect the fact that getting Leh’d is considered one of the most adventurous events of one’s life. While I do like long trips, this time I went for an excursion which was fast and rather super-fast during night hours.

I would like to thank Aamir Hussain for helping me by giving tips and sharing updates about road conditions, right till I lost my phone’s signal. 😀

PFB a log of the most interesting 109 hours of my life:

12th June, 1600 hours  Left from Infosys Chandigarh with my Dad, Mom and wife in a Santro Xing – We got late as we were unable to get clutch plates from any of the authorized service centers in ChandigarhClutch Plate
12th June, 2330 hours  Reached Jammu – Looked for hotels but instead of staying in one, had dinner at bus stand and continued the journey.
13th June, 0600 hours  Reached Srinagar – Refilled the tank and went around the Dal Lake. (We were using LPG till Jammu)
Dal Lake
13th June, 0800 hours  Breakfast at river bank – Overpriced but delicious Paranthas.
River Bank
13th June, 1030 hours  Reached Sonamarg – Had Lunch – Trekked up the hill and rested under tall trees.
Sonamarg
13th June, 1400 hours  Left for Zojilla Pass – Got stuck in a jam for another 2 hours on the way due to land-slide – Had supper in Drass
Drass
13th June, 2200 hours  Reached Lamayuru. Finalized a hotel quickly as the house-keepers kept warning us that the electricity will be cut off in the next 15 minutes for the whole night – This was our first night stay in the last 30 hours.
Lamayuru
14th June, 0900 hours  Left for Leh after eating self-cooked noodles and soup – We were carrying a gas stove with utensils and enough grocery to survive an earth-quake for 5 days while having full meals.
Hills
14th June, 1130 hours  Reached Leh – Refueled – Had Lunch – Left for Pangong Lake
Leh
14th June, 1500 hours  Reached Chang La Pass – Took out the oxygen cylinders and started eating candies.
Chang La Pass
14th June, 1930 hours  Reached Upshi – Found night stay in a room with glass walls and bamboo roof – Drove back 14 km to the petrol pump for getting more fuel in containers.
Upshi
15th June, 0900 hours  Had breakfast – Packed more eatables after being warned about the terrain towards Manali – Left for Keylong.
Sarchu
15th June, 1500 hours  Stopped at Sarchu Check-post – Forced to stay in tents as the road was blocked till midnight – Had delicious Dal Chawal in a dining hall which was inside a white tent.
Tents
16th June, 0800 hours  Left for Manali – Said adios to Spanish mountain bikers – Got mesmerized by the BRO signs which are talked about in an article at DNA
BRO
16th June, 2000 hours  Reached Manali – Got stuck in jam for 2 hours – Continued after having dinner in Bunthar.
Rohtang Pass
17th June, 0130 hours  Went through a ditch – Tyre rim got damaged and passed out the air – Changed the tyre while leaving the lights on – Battery got drained and push-started the car.
17th June, 0500 hours  Reached Chandigarh – Left half the luggage inside the car – Took a bath and slept for 5 hours – Joined office at 11 AM – Saw signs of exclamation on my friend Harsh’s face who claimed that I can’t cover Leh-Manali road in less than 3 days.

Little Secret: I was only able to do it while changing the driver’s seat with my Dad for few hours.

I am glad to be able to conquer the top three scariest roads in Ladakh: Zojilla Pass , road to Chang-la top and Rohtang pass section. So the next time you feel like going on a trip, go get Leh’d.

Random clicks available at: Facebook
Read more car trip stories at: www.carconnect.in

Reference Links:

The Zero Ticket

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Zero ticket snapshot

For those who are in Chandigarh and frequent sector 17, next time you get a parking ticket near Neelam Theatre, have a look at the amount. It proudly displays the number that got its invention in India, ZERO. I am not sure if this is genetic or not, but I am a “Bania” and I do check the parking ticket to read the amount of fee I am supposed to pay. So last month I got my first zero ticket and as soon as I learned this, I went back to the counter and got a fresh ticket with correct amount mentioned on it. I thought it was just a mistake. Next time I parked, I noticed the same big oval shaped number smiling at me through the ticket. This time I was in a hurry and just ignored it. Today I got another zero ticket and I decided to ask the person sitting at the counter, “Why zero tickets everyday?” To this he replied, “We don’t mention the amount as it changes with the number of hours you park for.” As I was again running late, I took a quick snap of the ticket and thought maybe I could prove it to be a scam later. Coz the last time I checked, there was no hourly rate. Moreover, I didn’t see the collector take a glance at the time on my ticket. So if you are reading this or if you have been a victim of The Zero Ticket, do share your thoughts via comments. Maybe we could help the authorities understand that they can’t just run their parking in the memory of Aryabhatta! 😉

Personalised Infographic – Kushal Ashok

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This is what I ended up creating after going through the youtube bootcamp and pondering over the brand identity I would like to create for myself.  Though it is totally unrelated to the learnings I got from the camp, it somehow landed on me that one of the best visual experiences that I have showcased are info graphics. And though I started by looking for a template that could help me with the creation of my youtube channel art / banner; I eventually created this infographic that depicts some facts about me. This includes my introduction as a mobile application developer, my college CGPA, a breakdown of my activities and work.
I have even included my current typing speed which helps me create content while living up to my alias name @speedoholic.

Infographic Kushal Ashok

Created at easel.ly

Solo ride to Chail

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During the past few months I have spent a lot of time in office and the only time I spent with myself was in gymnasium.  I like to wear myself out during the day so that when I hit the bed at night I don’t have energy to think and can simply crash. As there were too many thoughts and too less of time to process them, I didn’t bother.

23rd May 2013 (Thursday), 11 pm:
It was not Friday but I got into the weekend mood, picked my motorcycle keys and stormed out. My backpack contained just a water bottle and my mobile charger. I was wearing the gloves as well as the mask which helped in holding the earphones in the right place. I had not decided where I would go yet, and simply turned on the music. The song made me pull the throttle harder and I was on the Himalayan Expressway in no time.  Learning from my last ride to Shimla, I got the tank re-filled at the first petrol pump even though I almost missed it and had to take a U-turn.

Though I was driving at an average speed in the beginning, there was no looking back after crossing the timber trail. Whether it be a truck driving on the wrong side or a fellow speedster overtaking on a curve, nothing could stop me. It was an assiduous effort to get high; as high as 2,444 m which I achieved eventually. Shimla was just 30 km away when I slowed down at a check-post and looked at the sign boards. The name ‘Chail‘ struck me as I had heard about it from my friends and probably read about it online as well. This made me realize that I had never been to Chail, and hence began my exploration.

The road got narrower and the turns got sharper but there was less change in my speed. The first few miles were easy as I was driving down the hill. As it was past midnight other vehicles were seldom met and thus I started using both sides of the road. It helped in speeding through the curves and getting the adrenaline rush used. The road was not well maintained and I almost skidded through the gravel sometimes but it was all intended. Finally I reached my destination which was a sleeping town. I parked my bike near the post office and started walking. The night was so quite, I could hear the wind playing with the dry leaves. As I lied down and looked at the stars, I started thinking and got overwhelmed with memories. I stayed there for 30 min, took a picture for my XCD collection and kick started my return.

The battery of my phone was running out so I could no longer play the songs. I was more relaxed while coming back and took halts to absorb the view. One of these stops was just 3 miles from Sadhupul where I noticed the Himalayan prayer flags tied across the trees. I often wonder what it could be that inspire the people to make these flags, climb up the tree and hang them with the rope. These flags were not put there for decoration, they carried wishes and blessings. I have always been mesmerized by them and thus continued my self-talk.

There were instances when I reached crossroads and had to search for a sign. Most of the times I just trusted my intuition as it anyways didn’t matter where I reached. I noticed later that I had used a longer route to Chail as I could take a turn from Solan instead of Kandaghat. The purpose of this ride was to get one with myself, to be alone and to spend some time with ME.

P.S.: I hope I’ll be able to follow my heart and trust my intuition when I face more crossroads in life.