Month: July 2007

Swiss Bliss

Swiss Bliss

As I take off from where I left it in Splendid Switzerland, I cannot help but think that each excursion in Switzerland was truly memorable.

Switzerland offered me ample opportunities to click pictures, and shoot home video, and was, indeed, most fulfilling and enchanting for my mind’s eye, and soul.

I sure have a trigger-happy disposition with cameras. Thankfully, I had also the good sense to carry enough memory because I ended up clicking close to 500 pictures.

My Sony Cyber-Shot captured many unforgettable moments of Switzerland’s everlasting magic. I present a handful of them – for your viewing and reading pleasure.

My first major excursion was to the French part of Switzerland. We were visiting the Leysin American School, one of the four English-based international schools in Leysin, an Alpine resort village near Montreux.

Leysin attracts climbers, hikers, and bikers from all over the world to explore its mountains and trails. The beauty of Leysin touched my soul. As I was returning from the visit, I felt there can’t be a better place for students to learn and grow than the tranquil ambience of Leysin. Such was the impact that for a few serious moments, the thought of turning into a full-time teacher crossed my mind, just so that I’d be able to live in Leysin.

On our way back, we took the Golden Pass Panoramic train. This took us back through a longer, but the most scenic route in Switzerland. The sights of mountains and lakes are a visual treat.

City Excursions—Basel, Lugano, and Interlaken
Located in north-west Switzerland on the river Rhine, Basel borders both Germany and France.

Basel is considered the art and architecture capital of Switzerland. Apart from shopping and strolling through romantic lanes and alleys in the Old Town of Basel, I also visited the famed Zoological Garden, lovingly known to the people of Basel as the Zolli. The zoo, which was opened in 1874, is spread over an area of 11 hectares, and is home to about 6,000 animals belonging to 600 species. I spent the maximum time in the aquarium which houses some of the rarest species – aquatic and amphibian.

Lugano was different than Basel in some ways. The city is built on the periphery of the incredibly beautiful Lake Lugano, also known as the Ceresio. Embraced by tall, green mountains, the lake has a dramatic quality. Its calm, mirror-like waters change in colour and mood through the day, and also through seasons. Another striking aspect was that no sooner than I landed in the city, I saw men that resembled Al Pacino, and women who had features similar to Sophia Lauren and Monica Belluci.

Interlaken is situated in the heart of the Swiss Alps, between the Lakes of Thun and Brienz, and at the foot of the famous trio of peaks, the Eiger, the Mönch and the Jungfrau. I went to Interlaken twice, but unfortunately I could not spend much time on either occasion. Undoubtedly one of the most beautiful cities in the world, I spotted many Indians who seemed to be residing locally. Yet, the few hours I spent there left a lasting impression on me.

Did you know?
Engelberg-Titlis is the only summer snow paradise to be reached within one-and-a-half-hours from Lucerne, Zurich, Basel and Berne. You can ski and snowboard almost all year round at an altitude of 3,000 m [10,000 feet]. In summer/fall, there is, depending on snow conditions, a downhill run for skiers, a fun park for snowboarders, a fun lift on the snow, guided glacier walks, and much more for non-skiers on Mt. Titlis.

Mount Titlis
Perhaps, the most famous tourist spot in Switzerland, Mount Titlis is a wonder. It was about 23 degrees when I left Lucerne for Mt Titlis and I was wondering if I’d get to see ice on Mount Titlis. But, I was not disappointed.

This glacier paradise at 10,000 feet offers a snow-and-ice experience on the highest point in Central Switzerland. The nearest railway station is Engelberg, from where I took three cable car rides to Mount Titlis. The first one was in a gondola for six people each. In Station Trübsee, I changed the cable car. This time, I found myself in an 80-person Gondel, where we rode up to Station Stand. Finally, it was time to board the Rotair, the first revolving gondola of the world, which offers a “round view panorama trip” to the top.

As I approached Titlis, I was thrilled to see so much ice all around. Once on the top, the experience was simply magnificent, and surprisingly the cold was bearable. Walking on a thick layer of ice, I felt I was in paradise. The “tyre ride” was one of the most exciting snow-games and I took no less than five rides!

The ghost of Pilatus and the forbidden mountain

In 1387, six clergymen were incarcerated for planning an unauthorised journey to the lake of Pilatus and an ascent of the mountain peak. Fearful thunderstorms and heavy flooding around Pilatus were harbingers of something supernatural afoot, prompting the Government of Lucerne to forbid locals and visitors alike from climbing the mountain. Even shepherds were placed under oath not to approach the dark waters of the lake, where it was rumoured that the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate had been laid to rest. Banished to this desolate wilderness, the man’s tormented spirit was said to surface every year on Good Friday, in a vain attempt to wash his bloodied hands.

In 1585, the parish priest of Lucerne, accompanied by a courageous band of citizens, ascended Pilatus to challenge any spirits lurking there. They threw boulders into the lake, churned its surface, waded through the shallows. A supernatural counter-offensive failed to materialise, and the spell was broken.
— Source: Plaque at Mt Pilatus

Mount Pilatus
Mount Pilatus was the nearest mountainous excursion from Lucerne. I reached the foothills in just about 20 minutes and boarded the cable car to the 7,000-foot summit. Mt Pilatus turned out to be central Switzerland’s most scenic peak, with a view of 70 peaks and five different lakes. I clicked the maximum pictures here, even as I discovered the area’s mystical legends [See box]. The combination of clouds, ice, mountain and sunlight cannot be described; it’s to be only experienced. It was extremely cold, in the range of 2-3 degrees Celsius, quite a departure from Lucerne city, which was around 24 degrees during daytime.

While returning, I descended by the world’s steepest cogwheel train that passes through five tunnels and runs at a gradient of 48 per cent. The occasion left a funny feeling in the tummy. It was, however, a small price to pay for the extraordinary sights that the train provided.

Rhine Falls
Located in Schaffhausen, close to the German border, the Rhine Falls are Europe’s largest waterfalls, but not in terms of their height, which is a mere 75 feet. It’s the force of the water with 600 cubic metres flowing out per second across the 450 feet breadth — simply breathtaking. The sheer drama of the place, with water resembling pure white milk, and a spray rising in a cloud of rainbow, was magnificent. The view was even better when I took one of the boats that took me dangerously close to the Falls.
Trümmelbach Falls

I thought I had witnessed the most awesome power of water in Rhine Falls till I saw Trümmelbach glacier falls. The Trümmelbach Falls are the only glacier-waterfalls in Europe inside a mountain and still accessible. The 10 glacier waterfalls inside the mountain are made accessible by a tunnel-lift. The temperature inside the tunnels was close to zero degrees Celsius and the raw power of wild falls cutting through the hard rocks was mind-blowing. Take a guess on how much water flows out of the tunnels: 20,000 litres per second!

The Trümmelbach Falls are fed by the melting snow and ice from the glaciers hugging the flanks of the Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau mountains.

Not far from Trümmelbach Falls is Mürren, a breathtakingly beautiful mountain village which has a mere 450 inhabitants! Mürren cannot be reached by road – either cable car, or train. I took both: the cable car for ascending and the train for descending. Perched on a high, sunny terrace facing the famous Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau, the village is the highest altitude ski-resort in the Bernese Oberland. It’s also famous for the revolving Piz Gloria Restaurant, which is where the James Bond movie, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, was shot. But, I would, any day, choose Mürren only for its unadulterated beauty.
Journey back home

As my stay in Switzerland came to end, I felt poignant. I wanted to spend more time and resolved that I will return. My journey back home was made somewhat less gloomy with a lovely in-flight experience aboard the Swiss International Airlines.

I enjoyed the in-flight entertainment thoroughly, watching as many as three Hollywood flicks, including the critically acclaimed The Pursuit of Happyness. The nine-hour flight itself was smooth, with hardly any jerks. Even the touchdown was superb.

As I stepped on home soil, I knew I had left a part of me in the “Garden of the World.”

Birthday Pledge

Birthday Pledge

On my 25th birthday,
I solemnly pledge that I shall

  1. resist judging
  2. sleep enough
  3. meditate
  4. write more
  5. cultivate empathy
  6. accumulate friends
  7. eat right
  8. keep fit
  9. act spontaneously
  10. spread joy
  11. defy guilt
  12. continue dreaming
  13. appreciate nature
  14. smile often
  15. be childlike
  16. maintain faith
  17. elude hatred
  18. stand firm
  19. trust intuition
  20. promote peace
  21. see faraway
  22. remain authentic
  23. stay on path
  24. love unconditionally
  25. serve others
Infinite soul

Infinite soul

My lifespan is not eighty or ninety
…but eternity
‘Cos I am an aspect of God’s beauty
…and infinity

The Earth is simply a playground
…it’s unsound
My purpose here is not time-bound
…but profound

As I live here with a body and a mind
…not inclined
My soul knows the task it’s assigned
…all defined

~© Manoj Khatri~

25 till I choose

25 till I choose

My lifespan is not eighty or ninety
…but eternity
‘Cos I am an aspect of God’s beauty
…and infinity

Today is my birthday and I turn 25 yet again. When I tell people that I stopped growing at 25, they think I am either joking or have lost my marbles. Neither is true. The truth is I choose to be 25 and I know I can.

The great advantage of such a choice is because our bodies are subservient to our minds, when I choose to be 25 in my mind, my body looks and behaves like 25. Isn’t that great? Also, someday I may decide to start growing. But right now I am happy being 25 and will continue to be so for a few more years.

On a more serious note, chronological age doesn’t apply to me anymore, because time is no more a recognisable factor in my life. While in everyday affairs, time has its significance, and it will continue to do so till I live and interact with others, the idea of life being time-bound does not appeal to me. I can’t get myself to do everything according to a designated time-table. I am an eternal soul disguised as a human being. My lifespan is eternity… Because, my life is not enclosed in birth and death—they just happen to be two milestones in my eternal life.

Petty Politics

Petty Politics

So finally we have the first woman president of India.

Shiv Sena declared that it supports the candidature of Ms Pratibha Patil because she is a Marathi woman. So now we choose presidents based on their mother tongue. And I thought India was a secular country, where things like caste, creed and religion didn’t matter.

The UPA chose Ms Patil as their presidential candidate because she would be the first woman president of India. So now we also choose presidents because of their gender.

And NDA did not support Ms Patil because it simply did what every opposition party always does—it opposed the candidate of the ruling alliance!

What about merit? Does that feature anywhere in the decision-making process?

If a meritorious candidate who is elected as President happens to be a woman from a specific region/religion, it is a matter of pride for the country—that we do not let gender/caste/language come in the way of merit. Unfortunately, the other way around seems to be happening. We’re letting issues like gender and caste overshadow merit. Will our politicians ever rise above petty politics?

In search of myself

In search of myself

One day I went missing
As I began searching
I kept reminiscing
Where was I last seen perching?

I knew I needed help
So my friends I sought out
But no one heard my yelp
Could no one hear me shout?

I looked everywhere I could
All corners I explored
But my efforts were no good
How could I be so ignored?

I turned to the last resort
And started praying to God
Maybe He’ll be my escort
Did He and I make a good squad?

When we finally traced me
I was sitting in HER heart
Cosy, smiling and free
Can’t I live here and never depart?

Can’t I remain lost?

~© Manoj Khatri~

Humility versus modesty

Humility versus modesty

Oliver Herford said: “Modesty is the gentle art of enhancing your charm by pretending not to be aware of it.” I have always believed that modesty is pretentious. Acting modest is like pretending to be less than what you really are. However, I do believe in humility, which should not be confused with modesty. Modesty consists of belittling one’s own talents and accomplishments for the sake of receiving praise or adulation from others.

Modesty often poses as humility. But such humility is false as it is usually social in context and hence external. True humility, on the other hand, is an acknowledgement to the self of our limitations and hence it is an internal concept.

I am aware of my gifts, talents, abilities and I see no reason why I shouldn’t declare them as such. At the same time, I am also aware of my weaknesses and do not mind acknowledging it to self and others. Being humble is being authentic to self. Being modest is being inauthentic to others. C.S Lewis once said, “Perfect humility dispenses with modesty.” So aim for perfect humility.

Decisions in business

Decisions in business

As an entrepreneur, a key lesson I have learned is about the importance of making decisions. It is not bad decisions that are the bane of business but indecisiveness. We are faced with so many different dilemmas almost everyday of conducting business, and each of them requires us to make decisions. Being unsure, we avoid making decisions and in the process end up losing time, money and opportunities.

Fear of wrong or bad decisions can keep us needlessly immobilised — because when we make decisions, we can never be certain of the outcome. We can, at most, make a calculated guess because there are a multitude of factors influencing the outcome of any business decision, and most of them are beyond our control.

Risk is inherent in any business. Even random probability tells us that 50% of all our decisions will be wrong. But the remaining 50% would be right. And that’s good news, right? By making no decision, we effectively forfeit this 50% chance of success.

Another advantage of making prompt decisions is that if it turns out to be unfavourable, you can salvage the situation faster. The biggest and most successful businessmen attribute their success to prompt decisions – not right decisions.

Another thing about decision-making is that you get better with practice. The more decisions you make, the sharper your business acumen becomes. Warren Buffet says, “In the business world, the rearview mirror is always clearer than the windshield.” Or as someone once said, “Good decisions come from experience, and experience comes from bad decisions.”

Writer’s block

Writer’s block

Words are absent
Doubts are present

Ideas disappear
Thoughts interfere

Pages remain blank
Feelings play a prank

Mind is confused
Actions are refused

Soul’s lost its voice
Left with no choice

Life seems locked
I’m positively blocked!

~© Manoj Khatri~

A letter to Ms Sanghamitra Chakraborty

A letter to Ms Sanghamitra Chakraborty

Sanghamitra Chakraborty
Prevention (India Edition)

Dear Editor:

I was taken aback on reading your note in the latest (July 2007) issue of Prevention magazine (India Edition).

Here’s an extract of the note that I found particularly startling:

“I know of a man who had devised a simple way to sort his laundry. He would fling them on the wall in front of him. If they stuck, thanks to the grime, they were ready for a wash. If they didn’t, he would use them until they did.”

From this you conclude that “men are wired differently” and that “men don’t waste their time fussing about cleanliness”.

You also go on to call the July issue of Prevention a “user’s guide to men”. You seem to have decoded men in entirety.

I am sorry to say but this is the worst kind of gender-based over-generalisation I have read in my life.

First, you have simply declared that “men” care little about cleanliness.

Ms. Chakraborty, just because you happen to know an unkempt, scruffy man who doesn’t wash his clothes till they become “sticky” doesn’t mean that all men do the same. Far from it…in fact there are as many men out there who fuss about cleanliness as there are women.

Then, you mention men not being interested in “cooking elaborate meals”. I would like to draw your attention to an interesting statistic: 79 percent of all lead kitchen positions including chefs are men; and these guys cook nothing if not elaborate meals. Not that it makes any difference. Chefs or not, if you ask me, cooking elaborate meals is a matter of personal interest and has nothing to do with gender.

If I sound like I am writing in defence of men, then I am not. I am only writing against gender-based over-generalisation.

To prove my point, let me give you an example of another common and absurd over-generalisation – this one stacked against women:

“Men are better and safer drivers than women”.

You’d be pleasantly surprised to know that in 1998, American women caused only 27 percent of fatal crashes while American men caused the rest. (Insurance Institute of Highway Safety, USA)

Moving on, the article you refer to in your editor’s note (Steal His Routine, Prevention, July 2007) is equally absurd. It says:

“Guys go from fast asleep to ready for work in 20 minutes flat.”

Are you kidding? It takes me at least, and I mean at the very least, an hour to get ready for work from the time I wake up! I prefer two though. I know many of my male friends who need similar timelines to get ready in the mornings. On the other hand, some of my female friends are quicker to get ready.

Any kind of over-generalisation only reflects prejudice. Physiological differences are all right. But behavioural differences between men and women are not rules. I think it is unbecoming of a magazine like Prevention to take such a biased view of half of the world’s population. I hope you prevent such a prejudiced view of the world in your future editions.

Manoj Khatri