Thursday, January 11, 2018

Cross-post from 500px #14 | Cross-post from Instagram #1 | Egypt

Back in 2012, the Egyptian section of the Louvre Museum had overwhelmed us. It felt as if almost whole of ancient Egypt had been brought over to Paris, and perhaps there wasn't much stuff left back in the country. But then, we were proved wrong. Egypt has a lot to offer, even if you have seen much in museums across the world.

Here are my top 5 conclusions after visiting this magnificent country:
  • Egypt is not only about Pyramids, Tombs, Pharaohs and the mummies. There are several other things to do, see and experience. 

  • There is no bounds to variety in food. And this is irrespective of what your dietary choices are.

  • Feluccas are the quietest boats I've ever been on. Highly recommended in the not so crowded sections of the Nile.

  • For an Indian traveler, Egypt being referred to as 'hassle capital of the world' is probably an exaggeration. We Indians excel in dodging touts and souvenir sellers.

  • Bollywood has quite some fan following among Egyptians. As an Indian, you would be dragged into conversations about Amitabh Bachhan, Shahrukh Khan and Deepika Padukone.
It will probably take us one more trip to explore Sinai and a few oases on the west that we could not cover this time. Meanwhile here is a series of pictures from a recent trip to two cities of Egypt - Cairo and Luxor, cross-posted from 500px and Instagram.

A post shared by Vivek Pandey (@pandeyvivek) on

A post shared by Vivek Pandey (@pandeyvivek) on

A post shared by Vivek Pandey (@pandeyvivek) on

A post shared by Vivek Pandey (@pandeyvivek) on

The Desert of Giza by Vivek Pandey on 500px.comRamses and the sky by Vivek Pandey on 500px.comAli, the Felucca boatman by Vivek Pandey on 500px.comSightings in Cairo by Vivek Pandey on 500px.comSunset in Luxor by Vivek Pandey on
Pyramids, Camels and the birds by Vivek Pandey on
Cairo by Vivek Pandey on
Cairo by Vivek Pandey on

Monday, January 01, 2018

Year end post

So here is the regular 'Year end post'. I have been drafting this since the beginning of December 2017, and the post will seem like a patchwork. But I think that is okay. All that matters is an update. Right?

2017 like every other year, just flew by. But the year was spent pretty well and I have no complaints over how it passed. Here are the top 10 highlights of this year, not necessarily in order:

  • Visited a one-of-its-kind medical museum at the Siriraj Hospital, Bangkok. Stood in the midst of hundreds of real anatomical specimens of the human body. An existential crisis followed thereafter.
  • Traveled to North Korea. Met the Indian Ambassador in Pyongyang under very strange circumstances. Did an AMA with Reddit India, and a short interview with News World India.
  • Discovered Kannur as an awesome beach holiday destination. Drove at the longest drive-in beach of Asia - the Muzhappilangad Beach. Overall, Kannur turned out to be a very pleasant surprise.
  • Lost a phone and switched across three smartphones in the same year.
  • Posted two short stories on Reddit. Two more drafted and shelved them to complete later.
  • Explored the rural Goan villages in an offbeat yet a cliche trip to Goa.
  • Took up a part time course in Business Management. The campus visit reminded of the college days, albeit most of the fellow students just like me were fat, balding and had smartphones to peep into all the time.
  • Visited Banaras after 17 years and witnessed the Ramlila being inaugurated by the current Maharaja of Kashi, from barely a few meters away.
  • Continued with my 1SecondEveryday Project this year too. I had only 6 misses in 365 days. Quite impressive, I must pat my back. :)
  • Did some touristy stuff in Egypt. Climbed inside the Pyramid of Giza. Saw the king Tut-Ankh-Amun resting in his tomb KV62. Roamed around in Luxor all day wearing a Jellabiya and took pride in the fake praise by the vendors and shopkeepers that I look like an Egyptian. A cross-post will follow soon on this beautiful country.

With so much that happened in the previous year, I just wish that the new year gets equally or more eventful. And yes, just like every other year I hope that some of those unfinished projects will see light of the day this year.

To end this post, here is a music video that has been running across our playlists very frequently, influenced by the recent travel to Egypt.

Lets begin 2018 with Boshret Kheir!

Sunday, November 05, 2017

My Mobile Phone History (2002 - 2017)

Last year when I switched to a new phone, I drafted a blog post with a collage of all the devices that I have used ever since I started using mobile phones. Unfortunately that draft post remained to be draft while I switched across four other handsets between then and now.

Here is that update image of my 15 years with phones. As you can see, it blatantly depicts how fickle I am towards the phones that I own. 

This post is simply for record keeping. I will post an update in the year 2020 to see how far have we gone from here.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Cross-post from 500px #13 | Banaras/Varanasi/Kashi

My last visit to Banaras before this year was 17 years back. And in these 17 years, this city has not changed its soul. Banaras is still quite 'Banarasi'. People still go for a daily bath in the Ganges. 'Temple hopping' is still regular among locals. And the 'Ganga Jal' is still revered. People glued to their smart phones is still not a very common sight. And chewing paan is still in the culture.

Here are some captures from this vibrant city, cross posted from 500px. If you are travelling to this city for the first time or after a very very long gap, please factor in two days to level your mind and body with the eventfulness of this place.

Sightings at the ghats of Ganges by Vivek Pandey on

The Ramleela fair visitors by Vivek Pandey on

Sightings at the ghats of Ganges by Vivek Pandey on

The Ganga Aarti by Vivek Pandey on

Sightings at the ghats of Varanasi by Vivek Pandey on

Sightings at the ghats of Ganges by Vivek Pandey on

Steps to Ganges by Vivek Pandey on

Sightings at the banks of Ganges by Vivek Pandey on

Friday, October 20, 2017


This post is after a very long gap. And the sole purpose of this post is to keep the blog active. There is no significant news to share or a topic to rant about. The idea is just to post something.

6 months after that eventful trip to North Korea, nothing much has changed. The DPRK effect has reeled down. Just like how the intensity of nuclear radiation decreases as time moves on. But the impact of the exposure lasts for a lifetime.

Meanwhile there are several other thoughts that crop up in the mind. The ones that you think about once you are at the relative apex of the Maslow's hierarchy. Why are we living? What is good and what is bad? What is moral and what is immoral? How does all of this matter? What are we going to do by 'preserving culture'? How is religion helping anyway? These questions keep popping up, and at a point they start seeming nonsensical. Funny at times too.

Shyamakshi as well as colleagues at work have been troubled often with these questions at the lunch table - myself to be blamed. Some of them are smart enough to simply listen and keep quiet. Some of them agree, and add their questions to this list. And there are a few who make an attempt to explain the answers. According to them, their answers are correct. But then, the definition of correct and incorrect is also man-made, right? So then, how do we decide without a bias?

Maybe the idea is not to decide. The idea is just to live. And explore life. And be happy. It does not matter if we know answers to these questions. And it will not matter even if we do. Unfortunately the elements/entities/folks who made us did not provide us a flowchart to live our life. The one that can provide a path for each and every possible combination of decisions in life. The humans went live without supplementary documentation. That is why the world is a combination of happy-unhappy-satisfied-unsatisfied people. Maybe that was the intent.

I recently bumped across this video. It has made an attempt to 'answer' my questions quite well. 'Optimistic Nihilism', as it terms the idea - quite resonates with the way I look at life.

Keynes said once - "In the long term we are all dead". A bitter truth but quite profound. It does not matter if we win or lose. If we pass or fail. If we are right or wrong - or any of those man-made political/social/economical opposites. Sometimes it is just fine to be ignorant and keep happily floating.

Not just sometimes - almost all the time.


Sunday, April 23, 2017

How we travelled to North Korea (and returned back!) - #4

This is the fourth and the final post of the blog post series of our recent travel to Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) a.k.a North Korea. We traveled as a tourist family consisting of my wife, our 3 year old son and myself to this secluded country just to get an experience of what it feels like to be there.

Please note that my family and myself have a neutral political opinion about the country or the current situation there. This blog series does not indicate any kind of support/opposition towards their regime.

Click here for the first post. 
Click here for the second post.   
Click here for the third post.

The Day of the Long Wait

We packed our bags and left for the airport early morning. Air Koryo flight JS151 was scheduled to depart at 8:30 AM. We shook hands with our guides and left for immigration formalities. Immigration check was smooth, unlike the one that was done during the time of arrival. No bags were checked this time. The boarding was from gate 3, and we could see our plane all set for departure, its engines already running.

At around 7:30, an announcement was made indicating that all flights will be delayed due to bad weather. It was raining, but we've seen planes flying in worse conditions. Only three flights to depart from Pyongyang that day - but the boarding gates seemed empty. Around 20-30 folks were seen around. We thought maybe the others are yet to check-in - we were told by YPT earlier that flights were running full.

After about an hour, we did not see any increase in the count of passengers. No communication from the staff. Most of the other folks that were waiting with us were journalists and were into constant phone calls. We looked up and noticed our tour guides sitting in the waiting lounge. Perhaps they would leave only when the plane takes off with us in it. Or maybe they were monitoring us - not sure.

We noticed quite a lot of crowd before the immigration check counters. And that is when we realized that Air Koryo had stopped check-in of all the flights. No more boarding passes were issued. Immigration formalities were halted. And we were on the other side already.

The rains stopped. Weather was sunny again. The plane engines were shut off. The crew stood beneath the plane, chit-chatting and waiting for further orders. No communication on boarding. It was already 4 hours since the estimated departure.

A uniformed officer came in. Mentioned that the Beijing weather is bad. They are not allowing the planes to land. We might have to wait - he said. We were given some food. We wanted to fly. But this was not India, or any other country for that matter. We couldn't question, we didn't want to. The area was now being patrolled casually by the guards - not sure why.

The Air Koryo JS151 grounded due to 'bad weather'.
The TV offered something to watch. Musical concerts with socialist music, songs of patriotism and the parade of the Day of the Sun. And a film titled - 'The Nation I Know' that was all about loving the motherland and protecting its dignity and culture and people and talent. It also had a scene where a teacher justifies why DPRK needs nuclear weapons. We watched all this for the next 5 hours.

Something similar that kept being played on TV along with other programs. I was too anxious to get on the plane, so taking pictures was out of question. This one is a screen-shot from YouTube.
Around 9 hours later, a journalist - Chad O'Carroll came to us and spoke about the situation. He had access to Phone and Internet. He mentioned that the weather is clear in Beijing and all the other flights are landing normally. Things seemed weird. He proposed us that we use his phone and check with our Embassy on the situation. Chad, if you are reading this - it was very kind of you. Thank you so much!

Till this point we were OK, but the weather as a reason of delaying the flight looked very fishy. That is when all the bad thoughts started pouring in. Theories around air force drill, possible attacks, sanctions to ban Air Koryo to enter international airspace started creeping up. So, we placed a call to the Indian Embassy. And the rest of the story is here in this tweet:

The boarding of flight started 11 hours after the scheduled departure. The reason for delay was still 'bad weather'. All those theories that came into mind were tad rubbish.

As we sat on our seats - I felt the same joy that I had when I boarded an airplane for the first time in my life. In the next two hours, we were in Beijing - and not at all complaining of the long queue of the immigration check. It was a very sensational departure from DPRK. And we were glad that we were back.

The Days of Reflection

For the next two or three days - I had weird dreams where I was classifying music into Socialist and Capitalist genres. There was too much of DPRK that went in our head. And it was gradually seeping out.

Nevertheless, we had a great trip. It satisfied all our curiosities to the fullest. Yes, we saw only what was shown to us and clicked only where it was allowed. But eyes look beyond. The mind perceives. And that experience one gets only by visiting a place physically.

We had some interesting conversations. On the way to Pyongyang, we met Mr. Ri who was Deputy Director of Marketing at the National Tourism Administration, DPRK. A very pleasant personality, he mentioned his liking towards old Hindi films. He stressed that more Indians should visit DPRK and offered his help if any Indian tour companies would like to collaborate.

From right to left: Our tour guides Mr. Kim and Ms. Jong, Alankrit, Shyamakshi and Vivek
Mr. Park - a diplomat from DPRK who was also waiting with us for Flight JS151 kept checking with us from time to time if we were doing fine and apologized for the inconvenience we faced at the time of departing from DPRK.

Our guides - Ms. Jong and Mr. Kim were extremely helpful and ensured that we covered most of the stuff that was part of our original itinerary in such a less time. Our 3 year old son was never bored in their presence. Our conversations with the guides ranged from food to dating and marriages, social media, benefits to the DPRK citizens, education and choice of career, agriculture. They felt surprised and proud when I mentioned that Rodong Sinmun is available on Internet to the rest of the world.
If you are planning for a trip to DPRK and have several questions, drop me an email. I will be more than happy to help and suggest you with my limited exposure.

People would ask - What is truth? Who is right and who is wrong? What is freedom and what isn't? All these questions are nothing but mere philosophy decided by some human based on a few opinions.

A wise man once said - 'Do not search. That which is, is. Stop and see.'. I think that is possibly the best attitude to carry and visit the DPRK. You will really enjoy it.

Click here for the first post. 
Click here for the second post.   
Click here for the third post.

How we travelled to North Korea (and returned back!) - #3

This is the third post of the blog post series of our recent travel to Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) a.k.a North Korea. We traveled as a tourist family consisting of my wife, our 3 year old son and myself to this secluded country just to get an experience of what it feels like to be there.

Please note that my family and myself have a neutral political opinion about the country or the current situation there. This blog series does not indicate any kind of support/opposition towards their regime.

Click here for the the first post. 
Click here for the second post.  
Click here for the fourth post.

The Day of Pyongyang and Kaesong

Our tour guides met us at the Hotel reception. We were escorted to our van and the 2.5 hour road trip to the DMZ began. A few ground rules were laid out to us:
  • Do not take photographs of the military personnel.
  • Do not take photographs at security/military checkpoints.
  • Do not take photographs of buildings under construction.
  • Do not take photographs of 'people-working-hard' or of 'people-wearing-not-so-good-clothes'.
  • Do not take cropped photographs of Kim Leaders. The photograph must be complete and nothing should be cut out.
  • Do not loiter around. Always stick with the tourist guides.
The distance from Pyongyang to the DMZ is around 170 kms. Its a long drive with only landscapes, farms and empty roads. Our guides explained us the Korean history and a few anecdotes of President Kim Il Sung to keep us engaged.
The KITC Tourist Van we were allocated for the tour.

The Arch of Reunification. The President Kim Il Sung had a dream to re-unite Korea again.

Empty roads heading to the Kaesong village. We didn't see any other vehicles except the tourist buses and military vehicles.
We stopped mid-way for refreshments. No shops seen on the way. This was a makeshift arrangements for tourists only.

At the DMZ, the DPRK officer explaining their perspective of the Korean War and Armistice agreement.

Notice the concrete line passing through the huts. That divides Korea into North and South.
The building on the other side belongs to South Korea. Strangely, no South Korean/US guards were to be seen. This was a bit odd and disappointing. At the same time it seemed as if they are 'up-to something'. Quite a scary thought.

The only photograph of officers that I took, with permission. Yes, there are quite a lot of brave tourists who take photos of what not in DPRK. I am not that brave. :)

The DMZ buildings were studded with photographs of the Kim leaders visiting the DMZ. The mural in the background is the last signature of President Kim Il Sung before he died.
Tourists are free to buy hand painted propaganda posters and printed postcards. Here's a sample that suggestively depicts the aggression of DPRK towards USA.
The next stop after the DMZ was a quick lunch, followed by a visit to the Kaesong Koryo Museum.

The traditional 'Korean Thali'
One of the several wedding photo shoots around the Koryo museum.
A traffic police minding the roads in Kaesong. Day of the Sun banner in the backdrop.

The drive back to Pyongyang started. It was exactly the same drive, played in reverse. We stopped at the same point for refreshments and passed through the empty roads. The guides engaged us in some facts about their country. We asked a few questions, but knew our limits as well as theirs. Its best not to get into any awkward situation.

Our guide did not seem pleased on a reference to Coca Cola during conversations. I was then recommended to try the 'Korean Coca Cola'.
The Pyongyang city tour was pretty much visiting the most popular attractions and a few souvenir shops.

A view of one of the few Metro Stations.
The Metro Riders of Pyongyang
Supreme Commander Kim Jong Il watching his citizens use the Metro.
A Pyongyang local reading the newspaper at a metro station.
The tall building in the center is our Hotel.
Pyongyang City
The Kim Il Sung Square from the Juche Tower.
The view from the Juche Tower. Notice the symmetry.
The lady traffic officers in Pyongyang are quite popular with their unique way of managing traffic. We requested to stop the van at this spot. Our guides denied the request.
The bronze statues of Mansudae Grand Monument. Notice the tourists bowing on the left.
Every visitor has to bow before these statues to show their respect. If you bring a flower bouquet, the gesture is appreciated by Koreans.

It is said that a Japanese journalist mockingly asked a random kid about the weight of these bronze statues. And the kid replied that the weight of these statues is equal to the weight of all the hearts of Korean people. The name of the boy is unknown to this date - but this anecdote is quite popular among the Koreans. Patriotism is duly appreciated - but on a lighter note, the boy could have a promising career in writing cheesy Bollywood movie scripts.

Local public hanging out near the Arch of Triumph
Outside the Kim Il Sung Stadium of Ideals
Pictures of President Kim Il Sung and Supreme Commander Kim Jong Il at all major buildings. Citizens wear badges of their pictures as a sign of respect. I have been told that every household has these pictures too in their living rooms.
Taxi on Pyongyang streets.
The day ended with a good dinner at a Korean Hotpot Restaurant. We came back to the room for a good night's sleep. The TV was switched on. Al-Jazeera showed some old news of sanctions on DPRK. Maybe it was recorded earlier and re-broad casted in the hotel. We were not sure of what was happening in the outside world.

The local channel showed about the military prowess of the nation and some socialist-patriotic musical concerts played in loop. Watching TV was like a bizarr dream. We had no clue that we would have to watch this stuff for several hours the next day.

Click here for the the first post. 
Click here for the second post.  
Click here for the fourth post.