Tag Archives: India

The car’s the star at Auto Expo 2016

With the world’s leading marques and a few hundred thousand visitors, Auto Expo might be the biggest mela since the 80s, when the brothers Ram and Shyam got separated and ended up on opposite sides of the law.

But don’t fret if you couldn’t battle your way through the crowds. Stuff India has all the skinny on all the cars that really set our pulses racing.

The car's always the star - Stuff India March 2016

This article was published in the March 2016 issue of Stuff India. Pick up a copy at the stands or head over to Stuff.tv/in to read the online version.

P.S My favourite?

“…The Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT

In a nutshell You don’t have to settle for copycats, now that the real deal’s here!

Claim to fame It’s the Jeep. Get it in full SRT trim and you’ll get to taste an insane 470hp from the 6.7L Hemi V8. Combine that with Quadra-Trac 4×4 and you get a continent- devouring monster!

Tech on the menu This bonafide, rock-crawlin’, mud-pluggin’ 4×4 has Launch Control, 8-speed auto, paddle shifters, an 8.4in touchscreen and a 0-100km/h time of 5.0 seconds. Yup, it could embarrass many a supercar

Best driven… Wherever you may want to roam (And don’t forget to put on some Metallica on the stereo and hang up a Stars-and-Stripes out of the window)

Status On our roads soon

Price tba …”

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Summer Getaways

It’s awfully hot here in India (unless you’re one of the lucky few who lives in the Himalayan states). In fact, it’s so damned hot, it almost seems like  the sun’s trying to burn you to a cinder. Yup, it’s summer all right. Doesn’t a nice vacation sound good right about now?

That’s exactly why I wrote about the best summer getaways for the June issue of Stuff India Magazine. Catch some excerpts here or pick up a copy from the news stands.

Summer Getaways 0 Stuff India Magazine - June 2015

“…Kanatal / Landour, Uttarakhand
Kanatal’s lake might no longer exist, but it more than makes up with its refreshing lack of tourists, the miles of winding roads, the lovely weather even in the middle of summer, and enough little picnic spots for you to make every meal an al fresco experience. Walk through pine forests straight out of a fairytale, explore the lush Dhanaulti Eco Park, or drive over to nearby Landour, a beautiful little cantonment town adjoining
Mussoorie, for some piping-hot paranthas and Maggi…..

Vembanad Lake, Kerala
Luxury experiences don’t get better than a few days spent at Kerala’s largest lake. Take backwater cruises, spend the day in a spa, sample the local seafood, and don’t forget to carry your camera along when you visit the Kumarakom Bird Sanctuary, home to almost 200 species of birds. And when you think you’re as rejuvenated as can be, head over to Kochi to explore the old colonial quarter, and satisfy your geek lust with a quick stopover at the Indian Navy’s Maritime Museum…

…Great Lakes Trek, Jammu & Kashmir
The ‘golden’ meadow of Sonamarg might be overrun with tourists , but it guards a secret that makes it a worthwhile destination when all you want is some solitude. That’s ‘cos Sonamarg happens to be the jumping-off point for the famous Great Lakes Trek, a week-long experience which takes you over high-altitude meadows and mountain trails as you visit a bunch of placid Himalayan lakes…

…McLeodganj, Himachal Pradesh
This little hippie haven’s quite famous for being home to a large Tibetan community, and offers a laid-back vibe most of the time (weekends can be packed, though). Check out the Dalai Lama’s monastery, take Tibetan food lessons, catch an art cinema night, or fuel up on beer and pizzas while you play a game of chess at a cafe in Dharamkot…”

Running to the hills in a ‘lil Datsun

One of the best things about Stuff magazine is the breathtaking variety of er, stuff, you get to review. Nope, it’s not just phones and gaming gear that floats our gadgety boat, but a helluva lot more. But what’s my favourite? The chance to travel. Like that time when the folks over at Datsun decided to take us up to Rishikesh to drive their new Go+ MPV…

Datsun Go+ drive to Rishikesh - Stuff India Magazine

“…Weekend Warrior
Delhi’s infamous fog has us thinking we’re stuck in a horror movie, so
when Datsun asks us if we’d like to drive the new Go+ MPV around
Rishikesh, we don’t think twice. Heading out of Dehradun, we’re impressed by the Go+, with its 1.2-litre engine making up in torquey-ness what it lacks in capacity. Yup, powering up steep climbs is surprisingly easy for this little car, with not many gear changes required…

Rallying round for the picnic basket
Sliding the Go+ around in a dry river bed makes our day. What makes it even better is our picnic spot, hidden in a corner of the Rajaji National Park. But more than the pakoras, we loved the drive down here. In fact, I think we’ve struck upon the formula for happiness: A torquey engine, a suspension that can take a beating, and a dirt track, far, far away from civilisation. Bliss indeed…

…Temple Town
Sunrise and silence at the Triveni Ghat, with only a few worshippers (and cows) around. It’s also time for us to head back and we gotta say we’ve had fun. The Go+ drives better than you’d expect, and while it’s just not spacious enough to seat 7, you can pack enough stuff for a long vacation. Too bad the interiors are disappointingly spartan. Verdict? The Go+ isn’t really an MPV, but does make a decent hatchback for anyone who can’t resist the lure of the open road….”

Catch my stories in Outlook Traveller Getaways’ Jammu, Kashmir, and Ladakh Guide…

Catch my stories in Outlook Traveller Getaways’ Jammu, Kashmir, and Ladakh Guide… These are just a few excerpts, and if you want to read more about this gorgeous land, head to your nearest bookstore!

Mamer-Naranag – Riverside Tranquil

VaibhavOutlookJKMamer

“On the face of it, Mamer seems an unlikely destination. Most travellers who cross this sleepy little town dismiss it as a mere highway stop, a place to stretch your legs and perhaps wolf down some pakoras before hitting the road again. Cars whiz past, heading east on NH1D, hoping to make it to Sonamarg before trucks clog up the highway. Tired motorists heading west look eagerly to arriving at Srinagar. No one gives Mamer a second look. But scratch below the surface, and this little gem of a place begins to shine in an altogether different light. There are idyllic village paths to tread, river banks to sit on and watch the world go by, verdant forests that tower over you, and for the heritage lover, the ancient temples of Naranag, located in a pristine, sun-soaked valley not far away. And if that’s too tame, Mamer has some high excitement to offer indeed — rafting on the Sind River…”

Sonamarg – The Gold Rush

VaibhavOutlookJKSonamarg

“Any place with the moniker ‘Meadow of Gold’ has a reputation  to live up to. Luckily, Sonamarg, with its exquisite high altitude valley that packs it all in — rolling hills, craggy peaks, rushing streams, a glacier, a trout-filled river, and miles-upon-miles of pine trees — seems to do so. Even by the high standards set by the many beautiful spots in the Vale of Kashmir, Sonamarg manages to stand tall as a veritable goldmine for the nature lover.

But with that comes the gold rush. In winter, Sonamarg lies covered under a blanket of snow, but come summer, thousands of tourists descend upon this small town, which is also the last major supply halt for troops bound for Kargil, Drass and the battlefields beyond, and for truckers ferrying supplies to Leh. And then, in summer comes the stream of devotees heading to the holy Amarnath Cave, placing further strain on the ecology of this beautiful valley. But even amidst the crowds of tourists, taxis and ponywallahs, and the black clouds of diesel from the trucks on the Srinagar-Leh Highway, it’s possible to snatch moments of tranquillity. On arriving you could be tired, jaded, and wondering what possessed you to come here, but a split second later, all doubts will be gone, when the clear, blue skies and gorgeous mountain vistas reveal themselves, the sun glancing off the peaks, casting a golden glow across the valley…”

Manasbal – Where the Lotus Blooms

VaibhavOutlookJKManasbal

“A lovely lake close to Srinagar, Manasbal has always played second fiddle to its more famous brethren. The origins of its name can be traced back to it being a pilgrimage destination for those who couldn’t make the arduous trip to Manasarovar Lake in Tibet. The Mughals did build a royal garden here, but it’s eclipsed by the gardens they built in Srinagar and Achabal. Even today, Manasbal lives in the shadow of Kashmir’s more famous lakes, Dal and Wular, a short drive away. For Manasbal, this proximity has resulted in a twilight of sorts. Not many people know of it, and unjustifiably so. For while Manasbal might lack the tourist trappings of Srinagar or the wild allure of Wular, it possesses a charm of its own. It’s a friendly, quiet, non-touristy place that offers a respite from the crowds at the more popular destinations. And it does have its own claims to fame — at 13 metres, it’s perhaps the deepest lake in Kashmir. Manasbal is a major stopover for migratory birds, and best of all, in the months of July and August, the lotus blooms in abundance, covering the periphery of the lake in an almost ethereal glow…”

Yusmarg – In the Footsteps of Jesus

VaibhavOutlookJKYusmarg

“There are a couple of legends surrounding the origins of Yusmarg’s name. The more prosaic one hints at ‘Yusmarg’ being a corruption of ‘Roosmarg’, or ‘meadow of the musk deer’. The more interesting one comes from a belief that Jesus Christ spent some of his ‘lost’ years in India, and passed through Yusmarg, earning it the name ‘Meadow of Jesus’. Given that Yusmarg’s an excellent base for treks, it’s a lot more fun to believe it was named after someone who’s said to have walked on water…”

India – Criminal Indifference


“A brutal crime shocks the nation, but even as public discontent grows, our ’leaders’ waffle and play the blame game. But we can’t pin all the blame on our self-serving politicians – it’s us, Indian citizens, which have allowed regressive ideas and criminal behaviour to flourish….”

My article on violence against women was published by Eurasia Review on 25 December 2012 and can be found at : OpEd: India – Criminal Indifference

India – Criminal Indifference

As the year ended, the nation was shaken to its core by the brutal rape of a young woman. The barbaric incident and the shocking details of the torture inflicted by the six depraved criminals may have left us distraught, but are we willing to change things? And where do we start? The system may have failed, as many say, but blaming the government solely would be futile – the rot goes deep into our society.

Govt & The Police: At Our Majesty’s Service

Our police system, largely unchanged since the colonial days, is still based on the concept of protecting the ruling classes, through brutality and fear. Ask any youth – especially a woman – of their experience with the men in khakhi, and the recollection will probably make them shudder.

The police may not have been around to protect the woman (whose injuries are so severe that she might never lead a normal life even if she survives) but was ready to attack peaceful protesters gathered in central Delhi – a VIP area reserved for our nation’s ruling classes. The police clamped down on protests, kicking and beating even old women and children, seemingly going out of their way to intimidate the press.

Ministers and political leaders, meanwhile, condemned the protesters – some still spouting regressive ideas that women should not be outside after nightfall, others asking the protesters to go home satisfied as the UPA chairperson had deigned to meet a handful – and played out their traditional roles of being indifferent to the realities of life in India. Then, closing down the Delhi Metro – the sole ‘safe’ means of public transport for women in India’s ‘rape capital’ – showed just how out-of-touch – and cruel – India’s rulers are. Meanwhile, it was alleged that police officials tried to intimidate the victim and her mother while a magistrate was recording her statement!

And then, how can we forget rape laws and the outdated justice system, which often puts the victim on trial. Blaming the rape on the woman, claiming she had ‘provoked’ a rapist, and subjecting her to unimaginably regressive tests and questioning is just unspeakably cruel. This is not what a civilised society does. And then there is the not-so-insignificant issue that most sexual assault gets fobbed off as ‘eve-teasing’ or ‘molestation’, terms that minimize the horror of sex crimes.

But can we expect a transformation? Not till we change. Safe in their Delhi fortresses, surrounded by armed guards, and living a life of luxury at the taxpayer’s expense, it’s unlikely our politicians will want any change in the system, as that would only reduce their grip over our nation. So, change must come from society, but sadly, the rot in the government emanates from the decay in Indian society.

Societal Shame

It’s a matter of shame that a nation which prides itself as a rising power still gives public space to arguments against individual choice and liberty. That we still allow self-proclaimed ‘defenders of our heritage’ to argue against safety and liberty for half our population, doesn’t show us as a modern democracy, but a feudal tyranny.

It’s nearly 70 years since we gained independence, yet we don’t want freedom to reach a large swathe of our population. Women have been killed for ‘disgracing Indian culture’, attacked over their attire, and assaulted for having the temerity to turn down a suitor. And then there’s female foeticide – the fact that even many ‘educated’ Indians prefer to deal with the ‘problem’ of women by preventing them from being born shows just how cruel we are. Violence against women doesn’t stop here. Our society almost seems to fear women, or rather, men fear a loss in power should women be allowed to take their place in society. So we ban them from talking to their friends, don’t allow them to carry cell phones, and if all else fails, yank them out of school. Continue reading India – Criminal Indifference

India & Russia – Does the ‘special relationship’ still exist?

Indian Air Force MiG-25, IAF Museum, New Delhi

Are India and Russia still as thick as back in the good ‘ol days of the Cold War, or has the bonhomie petered off? Eurasia Review carries my article on Indo-Russian relations.

India and Russia attempt to put ties on an even keel
Vladimir Putin is on his way to New Delhi. But India-Russian ties don’t seem to be as strong as they once were.  A look at where the erstwhile allies stand.

For nearly half a century, there was one world capital that had immense influence in New Delhi: Moscow was where India’s government sought political and military support even as it tried to maintain a stance of non-alignment. This relationship went beyond politics, (perhaps for the simple reason of Moscow being far enough for India not to worry about becoming a vassal state) and there was ample evidence (such as India being the first export customer of the MiG-29) that both nations looked at each other through a prism of complete trust.

Even now, despite big-ticket acquisitions from the US, Israel, and France, most of India’s military hardware is of Russian origin, and Moscow continues to be, at least in public, a trusted ally of New Delhi. However, the dissolution of the Soviet Union has had a seemingly deleterious effect on this relationship. With the inheritor of the Soviet empire, Russia, no longer as pre-eminent on the world stage, and India’s leadership acknowledging the need for closer links with the West, Indo-Russian ties seem to be suffering from a lack of direction.

Difficult times
The genesis of this gradual drift can be traced back to the collapse of the Soviet Union. With Russia no longer an undisputed world power, Moscow was forced to look West. The Boris Yeltsin years saw a realignment of Russia’s links with its erstwhile enemies, and the priorities of economic regeneration and reintegration with the world left little space for India, which itself was going through an economic transformation.

While the Yeltsin years are considered to be a nadir in Indo-Russian relations, if for the simple reason that India no longer enjoyed the spotlight, military ties continued to be on a sound footing. Weapons sales continued and India remained a trusted customer. Vladimir Putin’s nationalist platform then brought back the bonhomie and India again found itself more than an armaments customer.

However, the past few years have once again seen Indo-Russian ties go through a rough path. But just how deep is this rift?

Continue reading India & Russia – Does the ‘special relationship’ still exist?

These Colours Don’t Run – India’s Gamble at Monte Cassino

Indian Graves, Commonwealth Cemetery, Monte CassinoMy article on the Italian town of Monte Cassino – the site of a famous WWII battle – was published in the Times of India Crest Edition in November 2012.

In a little corner of Italy, far away from the tourist trail, lies a small town with an Indian connection. It’s a place I first heard of a decade ago, and finding myself sick of Rome’s crowds, a visit to Monte Cassino is something I just can’t pass up. As the train sets off from Roma Termini, my thoughts keep coming back to all I’ve heard. Barely a two-hour train ride from the capital, this town is where scores of Indian troops gave their lives pushing back the Germans in one of the fiercest battles of the Second World War.

I’ve always been fascinated by history, and of all the times when human endurance and spirit has been tested, it’s the Second World War that stands out. Not just for the hopelessness and despair that seemed to enshroud our race like a dense fog, but also for remarkable tales of courage and selflessness. And nothing exemplifies this triumph of human spirit over seemingly insurmountable odds more than the Indian troops who fought for freedom thousands of miles away from home. In an alien land, alongside men who, it hurts to say, would have regarded them as less than their equals. Alongside men who professed to defend freedom, as long as the freedom wasn’t for Indians. However, our countrymen came through this dark period with distinction – their showing cementing the Indian soldier’s reputation for gallantry, toughness, and sheer effectiveness.

The train seems empty. There don’t seem to be many people heading in this direction, and watching the Italian countryside flash by, my thoughts turn to what it must have been like 60 years ago. It’s hard to believe that the gorgeous Italian scenery that surrounds us could have been the setting for the deaths of thousands of young men.

At the Cassino station, I’m the only one who gets off. It’s a quiet place indeed. Peaceful. Sleepy. Walking into a café by the station, I ask for what’s become my staple breakfast in Italy: Cappuccino and a croissant. The café owner, who doesn’t speak English all that well, guesses I’m Indian. A grin and a handshake later, he directs me to the museum. There seems to be a unique warmth in his manner – perhaps a certain nod towards the sacrifices my compatriots made helping this beautiful land regain its freedom.

Yes, the world may have forgotten the battles of Cassino, but the town hasn’t. That’s because in the early months of 1944, Cassino was the epicentre of perhaps the hardest-fought battle of the Second World War. Over a nearly five-month period, as the Germans tried to stem the Allied advance to the north, fierce fighting saw most of the town turned into rubble. It was perhaps the town’s misfortune to be placed smack bang on the Gustav Line. The battle for Rome was, in fact, fought here, and by the time peace came, there was so much damage that the few surviving buildings had to be torn down and a new town built. That explains the grid-like layout of post-War Cassino – the American influence is striking, and admittedly, surreal. One doesn’t expect a small Italian town to look this way – the Fiats and Alfa Romeos amidst the grid-like streets and art-deco architecture just add to the cognitive dissonance.

Continue reading These Colours Don’t Run – India’s Gamble at Monte Cassino