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A delay of more than an hour in our departure to Shillong proved to be a bit costly, at the end of the day. Why, you will learn later…

We had booked a taxi and we were supposed to leave at 9 am. Shillong is around 130 km from where were staying and it takes around 4 hours. But we later came to know that taxis aren’t plying between Guwahati and Shillong.

The strike is in reponse to a call given by the Greater Shillong Tourist Taxi Association in protest against the district administration’s decision to shift the taxi stand from in front of the crowded Police Bazar and allot the place for parking private vehicles.

So yesterday the taxi operator had arranged for a private car to take us. He charged Rs 500 over and above the Rs 1,500 that was agreed upon, with the excuse that strike has made their jobs really difficult. Since we were short of time and thus the option of bus wasn’t viable, we agreed. But as there was some delay in getting the car, we could leave only at 10.25 am.

The weather was mildly warm, the terrain dry and air dusty. The road wasn’t as bad as I had been told. There is plenty of greenery. Could spot plenty of coconut trees. The landscape at some places reminded me of Western Ghats.

I noticed that petrol price per litre was only Rs 38.69 at Dharapur. In Bangalore it’s at least Rs 21 more.

We didn’t get into the Guwahati city, saw a portion of Guwahati University though as we passed in front of it. At Chalukbari junction we took a right turn to Shillong, going straight would have taken us to Guwahati city. From Khanapara, it’s mostly uphill and hair-pin curves to Shillong which is 91 km from there.

As we crossed the bridge over Byurnihat river, we entered Meghalaya. At Nongpoh, we stopped to have coffee at Zen Cafe, which had artistically laid out seats with thatched umbrella shades over them. Small road-side kiosks and even small houses were made of wood.

Barapani Lakeside, a beautiful expanse of water, is a must stopover for all tourists heading to or from Shillong. It’s some 15 km from the capital.

We reached Shillong around 2.30 pm and checked into the White Orchid Guesthouse at Malki Point. Rs 1,600 for a spacious and neat triple occupancy room was very reasonable. After lunch we went straight to Shillong Peak. At 2000 metres, it’s the highest point in Meghalaya, and from the peak one gets a breathtaking view of the city. The spot has some historical religious significance.

Next stop was supposed to be Elephanta Falls. But we had got late. By 4.30 pm it was dusk and by 5.30 pm sun had set and it was darkness all around. The place would have closed by then. This is when we regretted the delay of over one hour. Now we hope to see the place tomorrow.

Putting the rest of the time to some good use, we went to Gloria Plaza and Vishal Market for some shopping.

Shillong is a town with narrow roads in most places and a few congested localities mainly shopping areas. It’s a hilly terrain. There are no glitzy shopping malls or highrise apartment complexes. The hilly terrain doesn’t allow any archetectural exhibitionism.

The city virtually shuts down by 9 pm. In fact, the Chinese restaurant we were in at that hour had downed its shutter at 8.30 pm and we were the only customers there. The food there was very economical for the large quantity they offered.

A full day of sight-seeing tomorrow.

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OLD-WORLD CHARM

Kolkata airport may lack the swanky look of Bangalore airport, and the first thoughts of a tourist from India’s tech capital would inevitably be that it could easily do with some image building to get rid of that ‘old’ look.

But step back a bit, and the old-world charm would start sinking in. The plaster of Paris on walls, deep grey cemented floors and steep steps, fans perched on thick pillars — you begin to realise this is Kolkata, a repository of rich heritage. Soon, those sepia images begin flooding the mind, in a flashback as it were.

FLIES, NOTHING UNUSUAL

Had lunch at one Saptagiri restaurant outside airport. Flies were a major put-off. There was this no-fly zone, the air-conditioned enclosure for which there is a 20% extra charge. But surprisingly, there were few takers for it. Almost everyone, including well-dressed staff of well-known airlines found flies just a part of the Kolkata ambience. In fact, in the airport lounge too, there were a few flies marking their presence.

TAXI MUDDLE

The 6-hour transit halt at Kolkata did tempt me to step out of airport premises to get a feel of this world-renowned metro. Did briefly contemplate rushing to Dakshineshwar temple, on the suggestion of a friend. But quickly abandoned the plan as taxi fares being demanded were as much puzzling as exorbitant.

The first cabbie spoke of Rs 500. Then, a person sitting at a desk under a tree, who we were told is a ‘pre-paid counter’ said the trip would cost us Rs 700. Then, a few cab drivers followed us, with each of them slashing the others’ fare by Rs 100! The whole thing sounded quite funny and scary in equal measure.

To be fair, there is indeed an authorised, well-designated pre-paid taxi counter, where I am sure we would have been offered a reasonable and straightforward deal. But, Kolkata wasn’t a part of my tour itinerary at all, and there was no plan to see any place. Also, there was this highly inhibiting thought about massive traffic jams. Many of my friends discouraged me from going out to the city.

THE BIG SURPRISE

In a way, it was good I stayed put in the airport, for it enabled serendipity to play out in a glorious fashion. After lunch, at the lounge I was killing time with the mobile. And momentarily I looked up and around. I noticed a very familiar face, and I couldn’t believe myself when I realised it was the very same person I’d have missed on my trip to Shillong.

We were travelling in opposite directions, and Kolkata was the transit halt for both of us; and never did we realise that we would run into each other in this crowded airport.

‘DIFFERENT’ GUWAHATI

Touched down at Guwahati airport at 7 pm. What a contrast in comparison to Kolkata. Much smaller and virtually deserted. I was quite impressed by the sensor-operated taps in the washroom; Kolkata had the very ancient variety.

Tomorrow we travel to Shillong. There’s a lot to look forward to, I am told.

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Hope tomorrow will be a peaceful day, when people will spend their time — if not in calm spiritual reflection at least — in the comforts of their home or where ever, watching movies, having good food, or in some sort of harmless fun.

Hope no one will try to mess up other people’s lives and also make this world uninhabitable, more than what it already is.

On one side it’s the anniversary of 9/11. And to make matters worse, as if it already is not, some one is planning to publicly insult people’s personal beliefs and faith, in a manner that makes me shudder, thinking of the consequences. How one person can actually mess things up so badly is shocking.

In India, coincidentally, Muslims and Hindus will have their religious festivals of Eid and Ganesh Chaturthi on the same day, tomorrow. Not in the recent past such a thing has happened.

It will be an opportunity to show the world that in India different faiths can live peacefully and in harmony. I hope people keep their religious faiths to themselves, to their private space; and there’s no undue public flaunting of individuals’ personal beliefs and faiths.

Hopefully tomorrow there’s no attempt by anyone to test other people’s tolerance levels. Hope the festive season heralds peace, happiness and prosperity.

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The US may be leading in the use of mobile phones. But it is second only to South Africa when it comes to the number of women using the mobile to access internet. South Africa leads the world in the category with 43.4%. It is followed by the US with 35.6%, Russia with 32.4% and the UK with 31.5%.

The number of women world over using mobile web has gone up steeply — a whopping 575% in two years, says the latest Opera’s State of the Mobile Web Report released this week.

India has the least number of women mobile web users, 4%, behind Nigeria (5.4%), China (11.6%) and Vietnam (17.9%). Ukraine and Vietnam have the most users under 18 (34.8% and 23.7%, respectively), while the US and and the UK have a lot of users who are 38 and older (26% and 21%, respectively).

To the question, "Do you have online friends you’ve never met in real life?", the most number of "yes" came from Nigeria (87.3%), Indonesia (83.7%), and Ukraine (83.1%). And the least number of "yes" came from United Kingdom (64.6%), United States (65.6%).
Google and Facebook compete for the top spot in several Southeast Asian countries. Opera Mini users in Southeast Asia tend to prefer Nokia handsets, while the Apple iPhone is the most popular handset used by Opera Mini users in both Singapore and Myanmar.

Commenting on the survey, co-founder, Opera Software, Jon von Tetzchner, said, "Mobile web is all about breaking down barriers to access. Seeing more women on the mobile web is important to ensuring the mobile web remains the rich tapestry of ideas it is. Further diversity can only improve things for everyone."

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Bangalore-based former students of Sainik School, Kazhakootam, Kerala, will have a get-together at the Officers’ Mess of 147 AD Regiment (Jet Busters) located near Ayyappa Temple, Banaswadi, Bangalore, from 11 am tomorrow, that is Sunday, July 11. Contact Babu C K on 9342816828.

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Yesterday’s world cup matches were simply among the best so far. The Germany-Argentina one was billed the final before the final. If it was disappointing it was only because it didn’t turn out to be as nail-biting a cliffhanger as many thought it would be.

The popular wisdom was Argentina will win. But I have been swimming against the current and as of now I am floating!

The German goal in the opening minutes was a shocker to many, but set my heart aglow. And quite surprisingly for even German supporters there was a goal rush after that. Not that Argentinians didn’t play well, but simply it was not their day. Poor Maradona. And, I didn’t like the hype around Argentina.

I thought Germany played to a plan. Their tackling and passes stood out and they seemed to be more in control of the wayward Jabulani. Perhaps the only moments of concern for the Germans were in the early part of the second half. May be goal difference might have been narrower, but Germany was the clear winner over Argentina.

Spain just managed to end match decisively against Paraguay, who must have been left cursing that brief moment when the ball found the post. And what a goal that was! That match was more evenly poised than the previous one.

More fun to follow.

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Twitter was conceptualised as the web equivalent of SMS.  But in its four years of existence, the microblog has grown way beyond even what its founders imagined. Millions of people use it in some way: to follow breaking news, to keep in touch with friends or to give expression to their emotions and opinions.

When a few Londoners in 2008 decided to leverage the power of online networking to steer social projects, they were breaking new ground. The thought was elementary: if a million people could network online, why can’t a few of them get together offline? And, thus was born the idea of Twestival or twitter festival. (more…)

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