Saturday, June 20, 2015

Sixth R2I Anniversary - Still going strong !

We just celebrated the 6th year anniversary of our R2I (Return to India). If I have to summarize the our R2I experience in one word, it is "Transformation". My life has dramatically changed in more than one way since my R2I. (Read: First R2I Anniversary: The journey continues)

I'm still continuing with my corporate career. When I returned back, I was working as a "Technical Marketing Engineer" at Ankeena Networks (which later got acquired by Juniper). Now, I'm the Director Technology for Aricent. It was a progressive career and I enjoy doing what I do. The work environment in India hasn't changed much in the last 6 years. But, if you are clear about "what you really want to achieve" and "what is important to you in life", you can easily strike a balance between work, family and social life. (Also read: The need for more money never ends)

My daughter got adjusted very well to the culture in India. In fact, she got adjusted faster than my wife and me. She is studying well and I can see that the schools are focusing on grooming the person overall, as opposed to just focusing on marks. Recently, she got pneumonia and was hospitalized for a week. We went through the fire drill for a week and we were back to our normal life after that. My support system at home (my dad/mom) was of great help. My wife is now working as a teacher and she has a busy life too.

My dad and mom are extremely happy that we are back. We attend a number of weddings and family events. We get to meet our relatives very often... it helps to stay connected with them. These days, our relatives treat us like "Indians". Immediately after our return, some of them thought that we will lead an American life in India. They don't have that doubt anymore :) Technically speaking, except for the infrastructure, you can lead an American life in India (KFCs/McDs, iPhones, BMWs/Audis, Porch Villas in good communities, Hotels/Restaurants, Online shopping, Shopping malls, International Schools with A/C etc.,). The life style in India has changed much that people don't peak into your personal life anymore (actually, they don't have the time for it).

Also read: Driving in Indian roads - pleasure or pain?

We visited California for a vacation, last year and had a great time visiting a few friends and going around places. In fact, we were constantly on the run and could meet only half of my friends during the trip. During my recent trip to US, I realized that US has become more "automated". Automated toll collection, automated parking lots, automated ticketing systems... these services used to be there before, but now they are seen "everywhere".

What do I miss the most from my US life? It is the ease with which you can plan your travel / vacation. In India, you would still need the support of people (travel agents, taxi wallas etc.,) to have a nice vacation.  The scenario is changing somewhat, but still have a long way to go.

What do I enjoy the most in my R2I life? It is the time that I spend with youngsters in India, in helping them to groom their career and personality (through Toastmasters). I get a sense of satisfaction that I'm able to contribute something back to the society. Of course, I enjoy meeting & spending time with my relatives at weddings / family functions :)

Today, a few of my friends have already R2I'd and I'm quite sure that the count will continue to increase.

Gingee (Chengi) Fort - My best hike ever in India !

Last month, we had been to Pondicherry for summer holidays. On our way back, we visited Gingee Fort (pronounced as "Chengi" in Tamil). Gingee Fort is at about 1.5 hours drive from Pondicherry and 3.5 hours drive from Chennai. If you love to hike, this is the place that you should visit. We reached there on a holiday weekend (May 1st, 2015) and wasn't sure if it would be open for visitors. We were positively surprised to learn that Gingee Fort is open throughout the year. This information isn't publicly available anywhere. There was one employee at the tickets counter. He mentioned that Gingee Fort comes under the Tourism department and hence, we can get information about Gingee Fort from Tamilnadu Tourism Development Corporation (TTDC) in Chennai. There was enough parking space in front of the fort and there was a nominal parking fee.

We reached one of the 3 forts (yes! there are 3 separate forts) and learned that the hike to the top will take about 1 hour. My dad/mom weren't very motivated to climb (in fact, the hike is strenuous. I wouldn't recommend it for folks who are old and having knee problems) . My wife, daughter and I took about 1 hour to complete the hike with multiple stops in between. We carried just 1 water bottle and realized at the end of our onward hike that it isn't sufficient. There was a guy selling some snacks + water bottles at the top (Hey! Its India...). If you are lucky on your day of the hike, you may find one also... but, don't bet on it and carry a water bottle with you. There are no shops near / on top of Gingee fort. By the time we reached the top, we were gasping for breath. But the view at / from the top was amazing. At the top, there were some leftover remains of the fort. I saw groups of youngsters carrying their lunch packs and having their food there. Like most attractions in India, Gingee Fort was also polluted with water packets, plastic bottles and plastic covers. Thanks to the common sense of our people who litter wherever they go.We spent about 30 minutes at the top of the fort and started walking down. We were able climb down very fast (it took just 30 minutes).

There were 2 more forts near by. But, we were told that the hike to those forts may take 2 - 3 hours. We decided to do those hikes some other day. If you are in/around Chennai and looking for a hiking place, consider visiting Gingee Fort.