Cerebral Shangrila

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Aruna Sairam - Live at Esplanade, Singapore

I went to this concert last week. Here is the song-raga list :

1. Viriboni Varnam - Bhairavi

2. Endha muddu endha sogasu - Bindumalini

3. Vara Narada - Vijayshree ( I first thought it was Varali)

4. Sabapathikku ( with Virutham) - Abhogi

5. Koniyadi - Kambodhi

6. Venkataramanane Baro - Saveri

7. Velai panivadhe en velai - RTP - Shanmughapriya ( One of my favorite ragas !) with swaras in Bowli, Neelambari and Revathi

8. Maragadha - Arabhi

9. Theertha Vittala - Abhang - Ahir Bhairav (?) & Subha pantuvarali

10. Maadu meikkum kanne

11. Enna kavi - Neelamani

12. Kurai Onrum illai - Shivaranjani, Kapi, Sindhubhairavi

13. Kalinga narthana - Thillana

14. Mangalam

I am not a big fan of Aruna Sairam but definitely enjoyed the Shanmughapriya RTP ( although it was quite brief lasting only 30 mins). After the RTP, the concert turned into a " listener's choice" with cheetus flying left, right and center.

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Monday, March 30, 2009

Earth Hour - Across the World

It is heartening to see people's power and their vote on global warming. Watch this video on Earth Hour roll-out across the world.

I did the least I could - Switched off all lights and went for a walk.

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Sunday, March 29, 2009

Paris - Travel Diary (Travelogue)

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There is Paris and then there is rest of the world. Arguments about " which is the most beautiful city in the world?" become moot less once you visit Paris. The city is a stunning blend of history, architectural grandeur and natural beauty.

VISA DETAILS : Indian nationals need a " Schengen" Visa to enter France. I got my Visa in 3 days. Please remember that health insurance ( for the duration of stay both arrival and departure dates inclusive) is a must to obtain a " Schengan" visa.

WHEN TO GO : Tourists flock year-round to Paris - the city gets around 45 million tourists every year . Spring is the best time to go with the city at its colorful best but that is when the prices are high. Summer is a good time to go too but is very crowded. Autumn is a good time to find deals.

LANGUAGE : Of course they speak " French" ! It is advisable to brush up your French and carry a translation guide to help you. English is rarely spoken but most of the younger generation can speak sparing English. Nothing can be further from the truth than the myth that French don't speak English on purpose. They are extremely helpful to tourists. My limited French knowledge ( learnt at Alliance Francaise) finally found an avenue.

GEOGRAPHY : The city is sub-divided into 20 arrondissements. Most of the tourist attractions are in and around central Paris.


Paris has one of the best public transportation systems in the world that is extremely well connected, accessible, and inexpensive.

Buses: The bus system is quite efficient but can be time-consuming due to the "Hub and spoke" model and traffic jams.

Taxis : Taxis are very expensive and hence are not a preferred mode of transport unless you have wads of money.

Boats : Great way to travel on the Seine river and access most of the famous tourist landmarks on the bank of river.

Foot : One of the best ways to see around Paris, particularly the central area where most of the landmarks are. Roads are generally safe but can be quite cold during the winter. Also watch out for the " Dog poo" that can be an irritant on the roads ( Parisians love their dogs but we don't love their excreta that is quite common on the streets).

Metro : The underground train - best way to travel around the city. Paris has more than 350 metro stations ( almost one every 500m) that connect most prime districts and landmarks. Though the Metro trains are quite old they run every 3-5 minutes, making it one of the most efficient modes of transport. Make sure you get a map at any Metro station. The map can be daunting at first due to the number of stations and the complex cobweb of lines but once you have done the trip once you should start picking up the threads.

Trains (RER) : The trains complement the Metro very well but their frequency is not as good as the Metro. The RER lines intersect with the Metro stations at specific interchanges.

My experience : I relied extensively on the metro and was able to cover most of Parisian landmarks with ease. I took a 2 day " Visite Pass" that cost me EUR14 and offered me limitless rides in any public transportation. I would highly recommend this to other visitors too.

TIMEZONE : Paris is GMT + 1 hour.

FOOD : Paris has many international cuisines with wide variety of choices for visitors. However, the food tends to be expensive ( particularly close to the tourist landmarks) in the city. Being a vegetarian ( like me) can be a problem due to the predominant meat based French cuisine. There are lots of Italian, Asian, Mediterranean and Indian restaurants in Paris. Italian cuisine has a limited choice of veggie pastas and pizzas. Tasty falafel sandwichs can be had at the Jewish / Mediterranean cuisines.

There are plenty of Indian restaurants ( at least 150+) in Paris. Most of these restaurants are owned by Sri Lankan Tamils and at least 100 of these are found at Rue Faubourg Saint-Denis in the North of Paris ( Near Gare Du Nord station / Metro). This area is also known as the " Little India" of Paris and is full of restaurants, saree, jewelery and music shops.


Arc De Triomphe: A magnificent triumphal arch built in the memory of those who fought the Napoleonic wars. The famous " Avenue Des Champs Elysees" - one of the most famous streets in the world starts from here. Visitors can climb up the Arc either in a lift or using the stairs ( for a fee).

I was lucky that my hotel was just 5 mins away from the Arc.

Champs Elysees : The most famous avenue in Paris that is home to luxury shops, cafes and cinemas. The avenue looks spectacular at night with lights adorning the street. It has some of the biggest shops of luxury retailers such as Adidas, Nike, Zara, Louis Vuitton and Cartier.

I loved the stroll through this avenue at night although the temperature was close to zero. This is Paris at its best.

Eiffel Tower : Is the definitive landmark of Paris and one of the iconic monuments of the world. Named after the engineer who designed it ( Gustave Eiffel), it is the tallest structure in Paris. Visitors can climb up the tower ( Two different levels) using the elevator. The view is breath-taking, to say the least, on a clear day. The tower can be seen from most parts of the city and the view is great early in the morning and after sunset. The tower is lighted very well after the sunset with special lights glowing once an hour in the dark.

The morning view of the tower was fantastic and the night view just got better. See the tower from the Seine river cruise after dark.

Notre Dame Cathedral : A magnificent Gothic cathedral that has stunning interiors laced with stained glasses. It was the inspiration for the novel " Hunchback of Notre Dame" by Victor Hugo.

Pantheon : Once a famous church now it is more famous for its necropolis ( burial site). The church dome is still stunning having been modeled on the Pantheon in Rome. Amongst the famous people buried here are Voltaire, Rousseau, Victor Hugo, Emile Zola, Marie Curie, Braille.

It was a surreal experience staring at the graves of people that I deeply admire - Voltaire, Rousseau, Curies and Braille.

Conciergerie : is a former royal palace and prison in Paris where hundreds of prisoners ( including Queen Marie Antoinette) were imprisoned during the French revolution.

Being an history buff, the French revolution to me represents the true power of the people. Marie Antoinette's cell is modest and it describes with admiration the courage with which she faced the last days of her life.

Sainte Chapelle : Next to the Conciergerie, this magnificent church has stunning exteriors.

Père-Lachaise Cemetery : More than 80,000 people are buried in this cemetery, one of the most famous in the world. The most famous grave is that of Jim Morrison, who died in Paris at the age of 28. Oscar Wilde, Chopin are amongst others buried here.

Things could be scary if you come here alone. I visited the graves of Chopin and Jim Morrison but skipped the Oscar Wilde one since it was too far.

Basilique Du Sacre Coeur: Perched on the very top of Paris is this stunning white Roman catholic basilica that offers one of the most spectacular views of the city on a clear day.

Montemartre: An artistic village in the north of Paris famous for its painters, writers and artistic milieu. Picasso, Van Gogh have lived here at one time. I took a walking tour that started at the famous " Moulin Rouge" and then walked past the " Cafe Des Deux Moulins ( where the heroine worked in the movie "Amelie") to house no 54 where Van Gogh lived with his brother. Further ahead is the Sacre Coeur and the artistes village - Place du tertre , arguably the most touristy place in Paris.

Jardin Du Luxembourg: A great garden for jogging and walking, it is spectacularly green with water fountains. Next to it is the Senate building where the upper house of the French parliament convenes. The perimeter gate is adorned with historical incidents of European Union (EU) and its countries.

Seine river cruise : Most famous landmarks in Paris lie around the banks of river Seine. Add this to your list as its a great way to see these landmarks from the comfort of the boats.

I took the night cruise. Although it was quite cold, I really enjoyed the view.

Louvre Museum: It is the most famous museum in the world and houses the " Mona Lisa". This vast museum is spectacular, daunting and in a league of its own. If you were to spend 10 mins on each artifact , it would take you months to see around this museum. The main entrance is covered by the towering glass pyramid and the entire place oozes history and grandeur.

I spent around 6 hours at the Louvre on a less crowded day and was lucky to catch sight of some of the most famous possessions - Mona Lisa ( you won't believe how small this painting is !), Code of Hammurabi, Venus De Milo, The dying slave ( of Michaelangelo). I took an audio guided tour ( Self-guided with commentary in English) and would highly recommend it. I got lost many times inside this imposing museum and also lost almost 3 kilos due to the walk !!

Versailles Palace : A royal chateau located in the city of Versailles . This city was the capital of France for 100 years before the French revolution and the palace here was built by the great King Louis XIV. The palace is a symbolism of the French architectural beauty and bathed in luxury. Of particular note is the " Hall of mirrors" . During sunset, one can catch the reflection of this splendid palace from the garden ponds in front of the palace ( A photographer's delight). The palace is located outside Paris ( around 30 kms) but can still be reached by public transport ( Mtero + Bus). Don't miss this beauty !

Attractions that I couldn't see ( due to lack of time) : Countless but the main ones would be Musee D'Orsay, Musee Rodin, Centre Pompidou.

FINAL WORD : The city is a celebration of life, arts and history. Every street has a story and every landmark brings back memories of timeless events of the past. The " City of lights" is more stunning in the night. I now know why Parisians are so proud of their city and culture.

I hope to come back to Paris in spring to see its spectacular colors. Till then, Au revoir et salut Paris !

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Friday, March 27, 2009

Earth Hour

As most of you might know, 830-930pm ( local time) tomorrow is the " Earth Hour".

What is Earth Hour?

For the first time in history, people of all ages, nationalities, race and background have the opportunity to use their light switch as their vote – Switching off your lights is a vote for Earth, or leaving them on is a vote for global warming.

When did this begin?

Earth Hour began in Sydney in 2007, when 2.2 million homes and businesses switched off their lights for one hour. In 2008 the message had grown into a global sustainability movement, with 50 million people switching off their lights. Global landmarks such as the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, Rome’s Colosseum, the Sydney Opera House and the Coca Cola billboard in Times Square all stood in darkness.

What can I do?

Turning your lights off for an hour is a great start. You could also spread this message to other people.

P.S : Here is a Youtube video on Earth Hour.


Thursday, March 05, 2009

Paris - First thoughts

I am in Paris this week on a business trip. First thoughts on the city:

a) It would be too trite to say that Paris is stunning. Someone seem to have set the clock here by a 100 years - the city is full of historical buildings that are aesthetic and defy the concrete jungle world of today.

b) The weather is very cold here. Its 10c in day and close to zero at night and it really feels !

c) The internet connection in the hotel sucks big time and the funny thing is I am staying at the largest hotel in Paris right next to a huge business convention center.

d) Arc de Triomphe is awesome - massive, regal and stunning. Champs Elysees is a walker's paradise.