Bethany School Days

 

It has been more that 12 years since the last time i was at Bethany! I have never been back there even once since then (hopefully i will go sometime). I remember some things and i have forgotten some, so i thought it will be a good idea to pen down my memories in a blog post.

In this post, i am intentionally not naming any specific teachers or friends as i can’t mention everyone and i don’t want to leave anyone out…

I was part of Bethany Convent School from class 2nd to 10th. I have some wonderful memories of school. The teachers there literally created the foundation of my life. The quality of teaching was so good that me and all of my classmates never went to tuition class till class 10th! And these days we see school kids in nursery and KG going for tuition classes! The teachers there were top notch and most of them loved teaching! From facebook i know that many of them teach even today…

Although Bethany is a Catholic led school, there were teachers and students who were Hindus, Muslims, Christians and others. I have friends from all the religions and it was always fun to know about their festivals, traditions and customs. We celebrated Eid, Diwali and Christmas with same excitement! There were never any implicit or explicit ways to enforce any religious beliefs on others. Even in the moral science class, we were taught generic life principles while the Christians were separately taught about Bible. Looking at the intolerance in people over small small issues these days, i think Bethany specially created a notion in us that progress as a whole is only possible by taking everyone together ahead as they are without enforcing our beliefs on others!

They knew back then that rote learning is of no use in the long term. I remember, when i was in class 3rd, they was an announcement that from now on in the exams, the questions won’t be just from the questions at the end of the chapter, they can ask anything from the textbook! I remember there was question, “Which is the longest bone in the body?”, it wasn’t there in the pre-defined questions and i didn’t remember the answer and the teacher wrote on my answer sheet that the answer is “Femur” and to study the chapter thoroughly πŸ˜€ Even in higher classes, it was never mandatory to answer the questions, exactly as it was taught in class. We could write it in our own words and it would be okay as long as the answer meant the same / similar thing.

Bethany gave me some of the most awesome friends for lifetime! I am not in touch with most of you guys, but i do remember most of you.. From having lunches together, playing games like Basketball, participating in events, interesting discussions in class to just growing up together! You guys made school life fun! πŸ˜€

Some of the memories i remember of my school days (it’s a long list in random order)…

  • There were just two openings in class 2nd and more than 50 kids had applied! We had a three hour entrance test! Me and one more girl were selected and the school put up our answer sheets on the board to justify to other parents why they took us and not others πŸ˜€
  • The day i joined, there was some song competition in which the entire class participated and i felt so left out..
  • In class 3rd, the two sections were interconnected and there was a door in between. Whenever one section made noise, the teacher from other section would come and say, “why are you making classroom a fishmarket!” πŸ˜€
  • In class 4th and 5th, when we started writing with ink pen (which was a big deal back then πŸ™‚ ) we were taught to write in cursive the proper way, and i’m sure if you check anyone’s handwriting from my class, it will be nice and beautiful!
  • In one class, when the class teacher used to be absent due to some reason, she used to send me detailed notes as to what was to be done in each period, so that we were on track and didn’t waste time. And i liked that kind of responsibility.
  • In primary school, we used to discuss freaky Aahat stories (a horror show) in breaks! πŸ˜€
  • As kids, it was fun for us when teachers used to ask us to bring chalk sticks or to keep the notebooks in the staff room πŸ™‚
  • In primary school, we used to quickly finish writing the exams so that we could play with our bench mate till the time is up πŸ˜€
  • Whenever a teacher was absent, we had a substitute teacher and in primary school we always wished that our substitute teacher was our games teacher or PT Sir so that we could go out and play πŸ˜€
  • That reminds me of the games class, it started with some basic PT exercises and then we were free to do whatever we wanted. Our games changed over the years… From just running around, Skipping, Hide and Seek, Ice-Water, Kho-Kho, Man in the middle, Kerchief game, Badminton, Table Tennis and Basketball.
  • We were divided in houses by color: Red, Green, Blue and Yellow. I was in Blue house and blue was my favorite color. But almost all my friends were in Red house. In our graduating year, Blue house won the best house award πŸ˜€
  • Specially in classes 8th, 9th and 10th we had some interesting poems in English and Hindi literature and we had some very interesting discussions in class. I don’t remember the exact discussions now, but they are some beautiful memories.
  • Parent teacher meeting and result day was a big thing! We were curious what comments we would get in the report card and what our teachers would tell to our parents. Also it was fun to get new books each year and to put covers on it during the vacation. I read all the English and Hindi chapters as stories as soon as we got new books πŸ˜€
  • In class 10th, slam books were a craze, people filled them up with glitter pens πŸ˜€ That reminds me i should look for my slam book somewhere πŸ™‚
  • We said prayers atleast three time a day, in the morning assembly, before going for lunch and before going home.
  • I was part of the school choir and i was so fun to sing some of those songs! The first song in our song book was “All things bright and beautiful”.
  • Our morning assembly had a specific structure: Prayer, Prayer Song, 5 minute meditation, Thought for the day, News Headlines, Message from the Principal, Another Song, Pledge and National Anthem. We had speakers in every class, and on all days, except one day we had morning assembly in the classroom.
  • On every Thursday, we had a long meditation session instead of the usual assembly. One of the teachers used to conduct the meditation starting with breathing exercise and then there used to be a long pause. One student used to go to each of the class room around that time with a dhoop (incense stick). The school had a unique clam vibe during those meditation sessions. Our school knew about the benefits of meditation for students before it was a fad!
  • The sports day and annual day were so much fun! We used to prepare for it for weeks in advance and it used to be a grand event.
  • Celebrating festivals was awesome! We used to have inter house patriotic song competition on Independence and Republic Day. And i still remember how the auditorium used to sound and the overall vibe when 50 kids sang Vande Mataram or Maa Tujhe Salaam or Chhodo kal ki baatein! It literally gave goosebumps!
  • For major festivals, we used to have a separate longer morning assembly with related cultural programs like skit, dance and song performance and talks!
  • There were boards for each house and there used to be (monthly?) competitions as to which house decorated their house board best!
  • Being Secretary in the school cabinet and then winning the Best Cabinet Member award are some of the memories i cherish! One of my responsibilities was to conduct morning assembly everyday.
  • Our school library was a cool place and it was stacked with books! Those days i was a huge Enid Blyton fan and read Famous Five, Secret Seven, Adventure Series and Malory Tower series. Later i read some of the classics here. We used to have one library period per week when we had to issue and return books. However one week was too long for me, i used to gulp down these books in a day or two! πŸ˜€ During summer vacations, one special request, i used to get multiple books issued to read over the vacation.
  • We were so competitive during school days, and i guess that’s why i got it so much ingrained in me. After exams, we could never wait till the result day to know our rank in class. So around 10 students in our class, each created a table with person wise and subject wise marks. We updated the table when we got the marks of any subject. Finally we totalled it out to calculate relative rank and percentage! I mean seriously! πŸ˜€ Just like it is prohibited to reveal salary details in corporate, it should be prohibited to reveal marks to others in school πŸ˜€
  • In class 9th biology, when we had the plant and animal kingdom hierarchies and weird names and it involved so much of memorization! That’s when i decided i won’t take Biology after 10th.
  • In mid school, our science notebooks had the left page blank and the right page was ruled. We used to draw the related drawings on the blank page. I was really good a drawing from plant details, organisms like amoeba to digestive system. Getting a good, very good or excellent for a drawing used to be a big deal πŸ˜€
  • Till primary school we had Art and Craft class where we learnt drawing and making origami. From secondary school it was converted to SUPW, where boys learnt painting and girls learnt a variety of stuff like different stitches, knitting etc. I started with these things but sometimes it was difficult for me complete them as it needed a lot of patience and repetitive work πŸ˜€ So finally i used to seek my mom’s help πŸ˜‰
  • Those days i could write really nice essays with relevant quotes on a variety of topics very fast. I have hardly written in hindi after school, i hope i haven’t forgotten the script!
  • Our campus was awesome! There were huge neem trees all around. A huge ground to play. A big auditorium. And spacious well lit classes with big windows! A seat near a door or window was treasured πŸ˜€ There were benches under the neem trees all around the ground and that’s where we chilled in our games period and lunch breaks. The red and white brick building had a charm of its own!

playground2

  • Eagles used to circle over the ground during lunch breaks and would sweep down to pick up a fallen chappati.
  • Our class was very united. At no cost did anyone rat out others, we faced the consequences of our mischiefs and pranks together πŸ˜€
  • Every group had a specific place for lunch. And it was fun to discuss stuff and have lunch together! In primary school, we were in a hurry to finish lunch as soon as possible so that we could play.
  • We had to make thermocol models in classes 10th and i remember i had created sulphur extraction cut out and reproduction in amoeba cut out myself! It came out really well, and all these models by each one of us were put up in the labs.
  • Science labs were cool! From looking at things under a microscope, creating a herbarium file classifying leaves, experiments like titration to doing experiments with lenses and prisms it was always so exciting!
  • The motto of our school was Love and Service πŸ™‚ And the logo is below:

logo

  • We had an yearly school magazine, and we submitted articles and poems which were shoristed and included in it.
  • Visiting Sisters who stayed in the convent on Christmas, admiring the crib they decorated and relishing the Christmas special cake was fun!
  • We dressed our best on yearly class photo shoots with ironed shirts, blazers and polished shoes. Now it is so fun to look at our own and our friends’ younger versions in those photos πŸ˜€
  • After entering the school, there are two trees, the left one was planted in front of us on some occasion.
  • All around the school, there were boards with inspiring quotes written. Just near the stairs near the KG section was the quote – “Great minds discuss ideas, Average minds discuss events, Small minds discuss people.” One needed to just walk around the school to get inspired!
  • Maths was always one of my favorite subjects! I especially liked trigonometry. During boards, we did rigorous practice of maths problems as this was the subject we wanted to score a 100! I still remember i made a mistake in the tax calculation problem in my boards and missed the 100 because of itΒ  😦
  • Once a week, we had to wear white dress in school. It was fun to wear our house t-shirts on that day. The school looked very colorful and bright. Also sometimes white shoes were checked and it was required that the white shoes are white and clean. We had chalk pieces to our rescue in such cases πŸ˜€
  • It was so exciting to take part in a variety of events. In class 3rd, I wore saree for the whole day with such ease, where we were showing how people in different states of India dressed! Our team went till the state final in Indian Science Congress in class 7th where we created a project on importance of nutrition. In a science demo, I presented metal ball rolling in a loop to show centrifugal force.
  • Celebrating birthdays in school was so fun. I could never celebrate my birthday on my birthday as Christmas is always a holiday. It was all the more fun when it was your best friend’s birthday as in that case we took a round of the school distributing toffees to all the teachers πŸ™‚
  • In primary and mid school we used to have dictation test to make sure our spellings were correct. There were separate grammar books in English and Hindi. Thus now, mostly our spellings are correct and our grammar is good and we cringe when someone makes such kind of spelling / grammatical mistakes.
  • Sanskrit was a difficult language to learn. And if you didn’t understand it correctly, then a lot of memorization was required! Still remember – ti, taha, anti πŸ˜‚

Overall, Bethany Convent School was an awesome school! We knew this back then too, but in hindsight it is even more evident.. I have some of the most precious memories of this place! Had some of the most amazing teachers who loved teaching and were actually interested in shaping us and cared for our well being. Made some amazing friends for lifetime whom i can always reach out to even though i might not be in regular touch with them.

Thanks Bethany for being an ideal school that a kid needs as a foundation for life!

I wish i was not in a hurry to grow up back then, probably would have had some more fun in school then! They say school days are the best and most carefree and fun days of our life, but then, kids in school don’t know that when they are in school!

P.S.

  • My friends from Bethany, please feel free to add some of your memories of Bethany school days in the comments.
  • All pics except the first one are from BCS website.
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Thought Experiment: Deep Learning on Life

Quick Refresher on Neural Networks
A feed forward neural network (referred as NN in future) has three types of layers: input layer, hidden layers and output layer. There are two main stages of using a NN: training stage and testing stage. In the training stage, the input is fed via the input layer and then it passes through multiple hidden layers (that’s why it’s called deep) and finally through an output layer. At the output layer, we get the output of NN for the given input and we also have the corresponding expected output. The difference between expected or true output and computed output is called ‘loss’ and it is backpropagated through the NN and the weights of the hidden layers are updated so as to minimize the loss in future. This process is repeated multiple times to train the NN. Then at test stage, a new input is fed to the NN and we get the corresponding output.

Applying Deep Learning and Neural Networks on Life

life_NN

I thought it might be an interesting thought experiment to try applying a basic Deep Learning Neural Network model on our life! (Probably effect of too much Deep Learning πŸ˜€ ) The overall idea is shown in the figure above. All the inputs from the five sense organs (things we see, hear, taste, smell and touch) are transformed and fed as input to the NN. The deep hidden layers further process this information. At the output end, the output is transformed into multiple output metrics like happiness, satisfaction, peace of mind, monetary benefit and many more. Our life’s NN is mostly in training mode. Each and every experience is transformed and fed into the input layer and then it passes through hidden and output layers. For every experience, we have its corresponding expectation called the output vector. Our expectations have a different score for each of the different output metrics. And the difference between expectation and output called loss is backpropagated to train the NN. Thus our model is trained by the experiences of our life so far. Every experience is a training sample. At test time, we give the test experience as input to this trained model and take some major/minor decision based on the output which affects the experiences (future inputs) which we will face in future. Thus the decisions we take in our life, at any point, are based on the experiences we have had in our life so far and our expectations of each of those experiences.

The usual Gyaan derived from NNs:

* Sometimes we think some people are crazy when they take certain decisions in life, however it is wrong to judge others as we can never put ourselves in other’s shoes firstlyΒ because we don’t know what all things they have experienced in their lives and secondly because we don’t know what exactly are their expectations from their own lives. So it makes sense to stop judging others!

* Sometimes, our own decisions may seem crazy. That might be because the weights of our output metrics (expectations) might be significantly different from the usual weights of other people, and in such case, it makes sense to embrace our crazy self!

* Training our life’s NN, just in itself is very hard task! And then if we start taking other people’s expectations into account while training our NN, it is very difficult to attain a stable convergent model. So it makes sense to live our life and make decisions in our life based on our own terms and stop caring about the char log (random strangers)!

* If we have too high expectations in our life, then mostly the loss is also higher than usual and the model is frequently updating. These frequent updates require more energy. So it makes sense to be prepared and to practice to stay strong in order to efficiently keep training the NN in case one has very high expectations from life. Similarly having no expectations doesn’t make sense, because in that case, the model does not have any guidelines. Thus it helps to know and set our expectations in advance.

* It is difficult to train NN with little data. As we experience new experiences, we train our NN better. So even in case of our life’s NN, acche din (good days) are coming as we keep experiencing new experiences!

* Sometimes if you feel that life is screwed up (you are stuck in a local minima or a saddle point) and the NN of life is not doing any good, it is ALWAYS possible to make some changes in the parameters so as to resume effective training of the NN. It will be hard but not impossible. The loss function will always have its ups and downs. Stay strong, have hope and don’t give up!

* At any point in time, every person is at a different stage of training their NN. Also every person has faced different experiences and has different expectations. Structurally and parameter wise also, the NNs will be very different. So it does not make any sense to be competitive and compare each other! It makes sense to share strategies which help in training the NN better. Life is actually NOT a race! Cooperation is better than competition!

* If you find mentors who genuinely care for you, then preserve and nurture those relationships, they can guide and motivate you in difficult times. Same thing applies to real friends and family, they can be your pillars of support. It makes sense to learn to network and build lasting meaningful relationships. (Networking can be hard for introverts like me, but then it is all about quality not quantity!)

* Our education is like initialization and running few initial epochs to setup the NN of life. Initial conditions are very important. Also the closer our education is to real life, the better prepared we will be in future! Stop memorization and rote learning.

* Just like high end GPUs can significantly improve the training speeds as compared to normal CPUs, similarly we can make the life’s NN train much better if we maintain good health. It makes sense to eat healthy, exercise and stay fit.

* Sometimes if we compare two consecutive iterations, we might not notice any significant change which in turn might make us doubt ourselves and our abilities and we might question if anything is truly happening? are we on the right track? and so on. It is very rare to get great short term results. It makes sense to be patient and focus on long term results.

* Even if you meet or exceed expectations on one of the output metrics while the other metric scores are significantly low (for example your experiences have a high monetary value and low score of peace of mind or vice versa), in that case, overall the loss is going to be very high i.e. things are going to be hard. It also shows that lopsided expectations and outcomes are bad and it makes sense to work towards holistic, all round development.

P.S.

* Ofcourse real life is a lot more complex and no model can exactly mimic it. This NN model is also an attempt to model some of the significant features of life.

* I could have titled this post as Feed Forward Neural Network on Life but then Deep Learning on Life sounds way cooler! πŸ˜€

Sailors

Michael_Zeno_Diemer_-_Ship_at_Sea
Ships in the Sea

The oceans and seas have sailors young and old,
Having ships to sail around the world.
Some ships are simple while others made of gold!
Yet all sailors have a common aim to sail to lands unknown.

Every ship at any point in time is hit by different waves,
Yet if you think, at an abstract level, all waves are the same.
Some waves may be gentle while others may hit powerfully hard,
Every sailor must be prepared to face the waves, gentle or hard!

The oceans and seas will have fishes, pearls and icebergs as well.
Similarly the approaching land might be a desert, jungle or a volcano.
The sailor must be prepared to tackle and learn,
From the varied diversity of sea and land.

Some sailors know where they want to go,
While others just go on along with the flow.
The unknown lands may be near or far,
They may be exactly what the sailors imagined or completely apart.

Some relax and have fun while being off sea,
Make merry and celebrate on the stable land.
While others use that time to enhance their anchored ships,
And make themselves stronger to face challenges.

All sailors by nature, never like to stay on the land too long,
After few days, months or years on land, they feel the oceans calling for their souls!
They then pack up to explore new lands,
Afterall how long can a sailor be on land?

Sometimes, after repeatedly sailing and living on shore,
Life may seem like an endless loop!
But then staying at a point may be comfortable,
However then there is going to be nothing new!

While sailing and on land, they meet fellow sailors,
Make friends with them and learn from each other’s experiences.
They must however sail independently,
As all ships are designed for one sailor alone.

Sometimes, sailors may envy other sailors’ experiences or fancy ships,
But then all these are enhancements while the primary goal for all is to sail.
Nothing stops sailors with smaller or simpler ships from sailing to better lands,
And to improve themselves, as well as their ships with resources available at hand.

Over a period of time, all sailors experience sailing as well as living on different lands,
Each of their experiences are very different and yet the same from a higher stand!
The more they travel and the more they explore,
The deeper they can unravel their own selves to the core!

Image Source – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Michael_Zeno_Diemer_-_Ship_at_Sea.jpg

Tips for Vegetarian food in China

Vegetarian? Traveling to China? Then you must be worried about what you are going to eat there. Most people eat non veg there. Almost all the restaurants serve only non veg food. Then how are you going to survive? People who have never been to China will tell you similar things. Worry not, here are some tips which might turn out to be useful for the vegetarians.

First, the hotel you decide to book is very important. Check the details, see reviews and pics online. Make sure that they offer a nice buffet breakfast. Make sure there is sufficient time to have a nice and heavy breakfast. I used to have milk and cornflakes, boiled eggs or omelet, waffle or pancake, some fruits and juice, baked vegetables like potatoes and tomatoes and any other vegetarian dish that might be served. Also if possible keep some fruits and pieces of cake in your bag to munch later. And after such heavy breakfast I was ready to start my day.

I had brought sufficient stock of some ready to eat Indian dishes. MTR has a lot of options of such items. I just needed to add some boiling water and the dish was ready in 5 mins. There are options of poha, upma and suji halwa. Poha was my favorite. I also had cup noodles and haldiram’s bhelpuri for change. Before leaving the hotel I used to keep one of these ready to eat dishes in my bag to eat just in case if I don’t find anything to eat during the day. In China, at most places one can get hot water.

Adjust. Even with some veg options you can make good things to eat. For example I used buns applied butter added a few slices of cheese added some veggies and my veg burger was ready! I ate a lot of desserts and fruits. Try to eat something out of whatever is available.

Experiment. Try out other veg options which might be available in restaurants. Check with the chefs that it contains no meat or fish. With recent vegetarian and vegan trends all over the world, there are some Chinese vegetarian restaurants. Also i heard that some Buddhist temples and the places nearby serve vegetarian food, although i didn’t get to visit such places.

Indian restaurants! Atleast in big cities like Shanghai and Beijing there are many Indian restaurants. Plan and go there in the evening. I went to Kebabs on the grill in Cool Docks in Shanghai and it was my favorite place in China. They were so nice as they created a special veg combo meal for me as I was traveling solo. I searched for Indian restaurants and went to the ones which were easily accessible. And I had some of the yummiest Indian meals!

Install HappyCow app. It show vegan and vegetarian restaurants nearby. It also has ratings and reviews. In a new city, this app can be a life savior!

Ignore the people who say that there will be nothing vegetarian to eat in China. Let me know if these tips were useful and add more tips to get tasty vegetarian food in China.

Bullet trains of China

You know what is one of the coolest thing in China. Their lightning fast bullet trains. I traveled in Maglev and Fuxing bullet train and I will share my experience of these two trains of China.

Maglev in ShanghaiΒ 

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Maglev runs between the Pudong International Airport and Longyang Road station. If you are traveling light then you can easily mange to travel in Maglev. I was traveling with a suitcase, a handbag and a backpack still I managed well. Get out of the airport and ignore all the people shouting for a taxi. Look for directions of Maglev. They are lots of boards pointing in the direction. You can take your baggage trolley till the ticketing point. Single trip costs 50 CNY and if you show the same day’s flight ticket it is 40 CNY. Wait for the train at the platform, and get in the train when it arrives. You can choose any seat that is vacant. Usually there is not much rush as many people take the metro instead of Maglev as it is cheaper. Choose a window seat from where you can look out and also see the LED display of the current time and speed. Maglev starts at the exact time it is scheduled. Observe the gradual increase in speed. The maximum speed varies based on the time of the day. I experienced the maximum speed of 300 km/hr! Enjoy each and every moment as the ride is very short and i reached the destination in exactly 8 minutes! Exact to 00 seconds! The speed is really fast and the experience is totally worth it. On reaching the Longyang station, i got out of the exit and from there took the subway towards my hotel. I took a three day subway pass for 45 CNY as i had to travel a lot and also it is easier instead of taking a ticket for each trip individually. This was my first trip to Shanghai and China, i don’t know Chinese and most people there don’t know English, still overall my experience was smooth. There were directions in English and there is very less chance of getting lost. Overall I had an amazing Maglev experience!

Fuxing Bullet Train between Shanghai and Beijing

I decided to travel between Shanghai and Beijing using the bullet train. I booked the return train from Beijing to China online using Travel China Guide. I wanted to book a specific train and it was around the China holiday season. So i didn’t want to take the risk of waiting to book the ticket in person, as sometimes the tickets get sold out. The online booking experience was good. There is some extra service fee to be paid but it is worth it if you have a specific train to book. You need to select the train and send them the passport copy. They will confirm the tickets which you can collect after reaching China. I requested them to book a window seat and they booked a nice window seat in the first row for me!

I booked the to ticket from Shanghai to Beijing in person after reaching China. I went to the Shanghai Hongqiao Railway Station. It is huge and crowded. Followed the directions and reached the ticketing counter. The person at the desk didn’t know English, but there was a display showing the details of the ticket to be booked. I signaled him to choose the date and train of my choice. It was not at all difficult. He checked my passport and gave me the ticket. I also collected my Beijing to Shanghai ticket which i had booked online by showing him the receipt. And yipee i had to and from tickets of the Bullet train. I had selected both the trains of the G series as it is the fastest πŸ˜€

Β Shanghai to Beijing train

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I reached the station again. Followed the directions and people to the third floor which were heading to the waiting area. Shanghai station is huge. Keep sufficient time in hand if it is your first time. After getting my bags scanned i checked my ticket for the platform number on the top right. There are well numbered platforms of both sides. I headed to my platform. There, my train was listed in the upcoming trains. I waited in the area. There are shops and restaurants all around just like an airport. It was clean and well maintained. There were huge blue LED displays of schedule of upcoming trains. And guess what ALL the trains were ON SCHEDULE. Not even a single train was delayed even by a single minute! Keep an eye on the time. Boarding started half an hour before the boarding time. The tickets are scanned and checked. Then i took the escalator to head down to the platform to board the train. And there it was, the bullet train! πŸ™‚ There are LED displays at both the ends of each coach. It displays the train number and coach number. I entered my coach and went towards my seat. Kept my bags on the luggage carriers above and sat down my seat. It was an aisle seat 😦 Two more girls were my co passengers. And very soon the train was full and ready to leave for Beijing.

One minute before, there was a announcement that the doors are closing and bam the doors closed. People don’t run here on the platform to catch the train in motion πŸ˜€ And finally the train started. I was really cool! It attained the maximum speed of 350 km/hr. Things just zoomed past! Cars and other vehicles were left far behind. It was nice to see the smaller cities, farms, forests, rivers and landscape of China. Also there were some tunnels in between.Β On the train, they serve food and snacks which is chargeable. However it did not have any veg options. I took breaks and walked around. Stood at the door though it was closed πŸ˜€ Enjoyed the views from the door’s window. The girl at the window seat offered to exchange her window seat with me so that i could i enjoy the views from the window. She was a Chinese but her English was good. She guided me towards the taxi stand and also suggested few places to visit in Beijing. In 5 hours i covered a distance of 1200 kms in the bullet train!

Beijing to Shanghai train

I was looking forward my bullet train ride back to Shanghai. Although i was also a bit sad as it was almost the end of my China trip. My train was G5 at 7 AM and i reached the Beijing station at around 5:30 AM. I had a lot of time in hand. After the security check the waiting area is also at the same level. Again i headed to my gate mentioned on my ticket. Even this station is huge but smaller that the Shanghai one. I took a seat and checked my train number on the display at the gate. Chatted with a girl who knew some English. And half an hour before the departure, boarding started. I scanned my tickets and they checked my passport. Headed towards my coach and got to my seat. This time i had a window seat! πŸ™‚ This was the latest model of the train called the Fuxing bullet train. It had charging points and free WiFi. This train was faster and mostly had the speed of 330+ km/hr. Maximum speed was 350 km/hr. My co passenger was a guy working at Microsoft Bing. His English was good and we chatted about China and India and shared snacks. I had a great time in the bullet train and took breaks and walked around in between. The train has two stops in between and it stopped just enough so that people could get down and enter the train in around 3 mins. The train was completely full. I reached Shanghai in exactly 4 hours 34 minutes!

Overall bullet train is something not to be missed in China. Take the Maglev to and from airport. And take the bullet to other cities instead of fight. These bullet trains are more comfortable that flight. It has more leg room. And the stations are located in the center of the city. I had blazing experience on the bullet train rides! This is the fastest i have been on land in my life so far πŸ™‚ I will surely take a bullet train again when i revisit China. Hopefully it will be much more faster then πŸ˜€

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Bullet trains are awesome! Hopefully India will also have bullet trains soon. It will be convenient to travel long distances in such trains. We can have a network of bullet trains connecting major cities like all the state capitals. And from these major stations, there can be other options like trains and buses to connect other cities and towns. I’m sure it will create more employment opportunities for our people and will be an affordable transportation alternative. And while we demand for all these facilities, it is our duty and responsibility to take care of public properties. We should consider it as our own property, after all we have paid taxes for all these facilities. People should not damage the things installed in the train. The platforms and stations should be kept clean. Things are changing in India now, however we need to go a long way. It is very easy to ask for multiple things and facilities to the government but at the same time, it is the moral responsibility of the people to take care of the public property by considering it our own! I look forward to the day when there will be a network of fast and affordable bullet trains in India! πŸ™‚

Visit to Mutianyu Great Wall of China

Mutianyu

Visiting the Great wall of China was the top most item on my places to visit list of my recent China trip. I specially planned to go to Beijing to visit it. After all who will miss visiting one of the seven wonders of the world!

I visited Beijing in September 2017 end. The weather a cloudy and i didn’t want to go to the wall on a rainy day as it might be slippery. I was in Beijing for three days out of which one full day was to visit the wall. The first two days were cloudy with prediction of rain so i skipped going to the wall. On the third day i decided come what may, i am going to the wall today! And i tell you, it would have been my biggest regret if i would not have visited to the wall…

So i got up early and decided to start early. I wanted to withdraw cash from an ATM and there were some issues with my forex card so i used my credit card to withdraw some cash. And in all this i got a bit delayed. (Tip : Keep multiple credit cards and forex cards to handle things in case of such glitches).

I had done a lot of research online about which part of the wall to visit. I had seen the crowded pics of Badaling. And thus decided to visit the Mutianyu part of the wall. It is also the highest rated place on TripAdvisor.

Also, I wanted it to be an adventure, so i decided to go to the Mutianyu great wall using public transport. That way, i had more freedom to walk on the wall as per my wish and take breaks when i wanted. Also it was a lot cheaper (and far more adventurous!).

So the first step was to take the subway line 2 and reach the Dongzhimen station. At this point i will recommend that you by a transport card if you don’t have one. It can be used further on the bus and it will save some money.
There i took Exit C and followed the directions which led to the transport center. It is a few hundred meters away. Reached the boarding point of 916 express bus. The 916 bus is slower with more stops, so take the 916 express bus.
After about an hour or so i reached Huairou. There i got down atΒ Beidajie stop. There you will see a building with greenish glass and a China mobile shop across the road.
Just cross the road and you will find a bus stop. Now based on some YouTube videos i waited at this stop for half an hour and finally took the H23 to Mutianyu wall, however after some time i found that it was not going towards Mutianyu wall. So i suggest do not take the bus.
At this bus stop there will be many people n vans to take you to the wall. Bargain and decide to go for 5 CNY per head. Wait for some more people to join. At this point i met 3 people from different parts of the world and they became my wall buddies to walk on the wall. So we waited and took the bus. One of us noticed that the bus is going on a different route. So we got down at a stop midway. From that point it would have taken us 2 hours to reach the wall walking!!! But the lady who was pestering us to take her van to the wall followed us! She said she would take the four of us to the wall! Some of us were skeptical but then we had no choice. We got in her van and she took us to the wall near a stone bridge. And i felt so relieved and happy after seeing the entrance. I had finally made it! πŸ™‚

Based on my research i had decided to go up using chairlift and to come down using a toboggan. So i took an all inclusive ticket for 180 CNY which included the shuttle to and fro to the wall, the entry ticket, the chairlift ticket and the toboggan ticket. There are restaurants and a lot of souvenir shops. But i suggest visit the souvenir shops on the way back. The wall buddies i met split into two groups at this point, a guy and me decided to immediately go to the wall while the other two decided to take a break and then go up.

We reached the point to get to the chairlift. It seems a bit dangerous but actually it is okay and safe. You need to quickly get in and they put the handle and lock on top. It goes up slowly and there are awesome views all around. Enjoy the ride. You can see the toboggan track below. It will take around 5 minutes. When you reach the top of the wall, they click your photo. You can buy it for 30 CNY. I didn’t buy it and i regret it now. So i suggest buy it if you can.

And yipee i was on top of the wall! It was just AWESOME! Amazing views in all the directions. The lush green peaks, the endless stretch of the great wall up and down the mountains, the chirping of birds and nice cloudy weather. It was simply AWESOME!

We decided to walk towards watchtower 5 on the left. Initially there was descend and then steep ascend. This part of the wall is difficult for people with joint / knee problems. Some parts of the wall are easy and some are really hard. In some parts which are very steep, they have put hand railings. Climb the stairs very carefully. I took multiple breaks in between. Climbed up the watchtowers and enjoyed the views. Took a few snack breaks. Carry a few things to eat and drink. Things are available in some parts, but the choice is limited and the prices are high. Clicked a lot of pictures and selfies πŸ™‚ Didn’t go to the highest tower as we were tired and also we didn’t want to miss the bus back to Beijing. So took a break at the highest watchtower we climbed and just soaked in the views. Recharged our batteries by eating some more snacks. Met people from all over the world panting and climbing the wall. Met some fellow Indians too. Did a video call and showed the live view from the great wall to family and friends πŸ™‚

And then it was time to head back towards the starting point. And the descent was riskier. I was very careful and got down the steps with a great care. We were back to the starting point and from here the highest watchtower which we went to seemed so far! Again took a final photography break and then it was time to go down.

And this is the coolest part of the Mutianyu wall visit. Ride the toboggan of slide down! If you are healthy and fit then chose it over other options like chairlift or cablecar and believe me it is totally worth it. They have built a metal slide. And there are individual plastic tray seats to sit. There is a lever to increase or decrease the speed. Push the lever forward and it moves fast, pull it back and it slows. It works just using gravity! Tip : Allow sufficient distance between the person in front of you and then start the ride. The faster you go, the more thrilling it is. Slow down a bit on the turns. Overall the slide is very long, i guess atleast a kilometer long. Twice i thought that it ended but it went on.. Enjoy the slide to the fullest. Again when you reach down they will take your picture. Buy it if you can for 30 CNY.

Took the shuttle back to the entrance gate. There are a lot of souvenir shops. I bought some magnets for 5 CNY per piece. There are other small things which you can bargain and buy.

And guess what? our savior, the van lady was waiting for us here to take us back. She charged 10 CNY to take us back and we didn’t bargain with her as she had saved us that day. We waited for our other two wall buddies to be back and finally we waved goodbye to the Mutianyu great wall!

The van lady dropped us back at the bus stop and we took the 916 express bus back to Beijing. In the evening the traffic was more and it took 2 hours to reach back. But the aching legs required the much needed break after so much of climbing up and down the wall. Bid goodbye to the wall buddies hoping to meet them suddenly in some other parts of the world.

And thus ended my adventure of visiting the Great Wall of China. I made the right decision of vising the Mutianyu section. It was not very crowded and sometimes i could get a part of the wall to myself to click nice pics and selfies. I would recommend going as early in the day as possible so one can spend more time on top of the wall. If only i had another day in Beijing, i would have revisited the wall! I was the coolest solo experience of my life so far and i will cherish it forever!

“Newer us” meets “Older us”

Sometimes we leave behind some places and move on,
To find new lands and to learn different things,
But we don’t leave like the person we came,
We have been transformed,
By the people, the place and the experiences.

A part of us, decides to stay back…
And, everytime when we go back,
The newer us meets the older us,
And both of them, talk with each other,
As there are a lot of things to catch up on…
The newer us shares the news of the outside world,
As well as the newer lessons learnt and experiences gained,
And the older us turns nostalgic and reminisces of the old times,
It also tells how the place has transformed since the time we left,

And after this discussion, the combined us,
Starts to think if the newer us is better or the older us?
But the truth is that neither is better in itself,
It is the combined us with the combined knowledge and experiences,
Which turns out to be wiser…

And then when the time comes to leave that place again,
The older us decides to stay back, a bit wiser
And the newer us thinks back of the good old days…
Both will be back from where they came and where the belong,
But both have transformed a lot in the process,

And the place where it all happened, feels like home…
And its people, like family…
And the knowledge gained, priceless…