October 29, 2006

Mousetrap - 76

A beginners’ guide
BollyWHAT??
If you’re one of the three people in this country who don’t grok Bollywood, here’s where you can find your crib sheets. This site aims to make our films “accessible to fans everywhere! — er, well, as long as you speak English.” Originally it offered plot synopses, glossaries, transliterated and translated lyrics; now the site has expanded to include bios, gossip, filmographies, recommendations. And it does it all with a nice mix of fun and genuine affection for its subject. A great way to get yourself up to speed on the national obsession. If you want to, that is.

Yer Granny could do it
Grandma’s Tales & Hip Hop Grandmom
Bloggers, so the cliché goes, are immature, maladjusted, geeky young men whining at the world. That may be true of some parts of the ’sphere, sure, but it’s by no means the rule. At any rate, these two ladies are about as far from that stereotype as one could get. Both teachers, they live in different corners of the country, and far from being socially inept, both project an immense sense of joi de vivre. And just in case you’re beginning to think they’re twins or something, no, they’re very distinct personalities. Go visit the ladies. They’re helping make blogging respectable for the rest of us.

Pre-history
Web Pioneers on the Wayback Machine
This paper has written about the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine before so I’ll only remind you that it is “an ongoing archive of the web” that gives you snapshots of sites as they once existed. This special collection points you to the archives of the sites that pretty much defined the web at the very beginning, before the dot com boom and bust: Yahoo!, the Trojan Room Coffee Machine (the first ever webcam), the NCSA, IMDB, Amazon (the first major e-tailer), NASA, WELL, even the White House. (Archive.org commenced work in ’96 , so you’ll only get ten-year-old snapshots.)

Playtime
The 50 Worst Video Game Names Of All Time
Self-explanatory, that title, no? I’ll just give you my favourites from the list. There’s Spanky's Quest. (The protagonist is a monkey. Get it? No? Never mind.) And Boobie Kids. And Sticky Balls. Really. Go see. [Link courtesy Ashwan Lewis.]

You’ve got book
DailyLit
Books by email? A chapter at a time? Not as strange as it sounds. As the site explains, many of us who find ourselves with little or no reading time spend hours a day reading email (or, if you’re like me, generally reading online all day). So the site offers you books mailed to you in bite-sized segments that should take you around five minutes to read. If you find yourself with a little more time on a given day, simply mail in for the next bit to be sent immediately, rather than the next day. All books currently available are public domain, so while you’re not going to get the latest bestsellers, you will get quite a few classics. [Link courtesy Chandrachoodan Gopalakrishnan.]


Reader suggestions welcome, and will be acknowledged. Go to http://o3.indiatimes.com/mousetrap for past columns, and to comment, or mail inthemousetrap@indiatimes.com. The writer blogs at http://zigzackly.blogspot.com.

Published in the Times of India, Mumbai edition, 29th October, 2006.

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October 22, 2006

Mousetrap - 75

G.I. Show
Calcutta 1945: An American Military Photograph Album
During World War Two, Calcutta played an imporant part in the Allied effort. Troops transited through the city en route further East and South-East. Not just Brits; many American soldiers too. And the University of Pennsylvania’s Van Pelt Library has made a rather unusual photo album available online. The pictures give you a sepia-tinted glimpse into that world, and with the photographer’s captions, give you a perspective on the average American’s view of the India of that era, much of which would be politcally incorrect to express now, of course. Though some may argue that many of those opinions are still held... [Link from Neha Viswanathan.]

Camera Veritas
The Weird Picture Archive
If you’re a reality TV fan, this site will keep you going between downloads of The World’s Most Shocking Police Videos and the Jerry Springer show. The tone is set right there on the front page, which, as of this writing, shows you a chap who can put a finger up his nostril.. and out of his eye socket. You can go search for your favoured brand of weirdness in the convenient categories (which sections for aliens, animals, humans, deformities, medical conditions, and much else), or use the archive search facility. Warning: this is not for the faint of heart or the easily offended guardians of culture, here or elsewhere. The pictures can gross out even The Simple Life addicts.

Ex Libris
BookMooch
You know how some people (and you know who you are) borrow books and never return them? Well, this site makes it all official. It works simply: you register for free, and list the books you want to give away. And you can check out what others have to offer, and mooch their stuff. You gain points each time you list a book, send one off (postage is your only expense) or acknowledge receipt of one, and you use them each time you receive a book. Go see. And, er, by the way, you can save yourself the bother of registering and just send your books to me…). [Link via Prayas Abhinav and Joan Pinto]


Reader suggestions welcome, and will be acknowledged. Go to http://o3.indiatimes.com/mousetrap for past columns, and to comment, or mail inthemousetrap@indiatimes.com. The writer blogs at http://zigzackly.blogspot.com.

Published in the Times of India, Mumbai edition, 22nd October, 2006.

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October 16, 2006

BEST days

We moved to Bombay when I was ten. I missed the old place, as I’d missed others as we moved from city to city, but as young lads do, I made friends fast—school chums, colony playmates, tuition pals.

It’s not as easy to make new friends when you’re older, in a new place; I know that now. For my parents, old pals from our home town were a link to their youth. The only such lived in Colaba and we in Chembur. And so, ever so often, we’d do our mini-expedition into South Bombay. For a middle class family, a taxi all the way was an indulgence. My brother doesn’t have the use of his legs, so the local trains, with the foot overbridges, and of course, the crowds, were too much of a hassle. So we took the bus.

The most convenient was the 8 Ltd, which then, as now, ran between Chembur’s Ambedkar Udyan and Flora Fountain. But then, the busses that plied the route were all double-deckers. The pollution, we quickly discovered, gave me blinding headaches when I travelled the lower deck. So I would be handed my ticket money and packed off to the top. (My parents and brother didn’t have the option; carrying John up the narrow stair to the top was difficult.)

Those rides were my introduction to the larger city beyond the lazy tree-lined avenues of Chembur. Over the years, I’ve got to know many other sides of this vast metropolis, but so many of those first impressions still define it for me.

Alone in the top deck, without Dad to point out the sites, I learned to orient myself in the city. Street signs were way too small to read from a moving bus; many were obscured with cloth banners and branches and, besides, the names weren’t the ones that I found on the old map I pored over, and they weren’t the ones that the conductor bellowed as he rang his bell. Commerce, on the other hand, can always be relied on for visibility. So shop signs, and even better, banks (because they put their branch names on their signage), those temples to Mammon, helped me figure out the geography of this city of money, the city Dad had moved to, to give me a better start in life.

I’d have charged to the front of the bus, of course, to pretend, when I thought that no one was looking (I was all of ten, after all) that I was the driver. With the wind blowing in my face, I’d mark off the areas we passed through: the bottleneck just before Sion, where now a flyover doesn’t seem to have helped matters; then Sion Hospital, and King’s Circle, which in all the years since, I still haven’t been in; and the broad sweep of road before Dadar’s huge traffic island; and the road narrowing again; and the confusing jumble before I found Byculla, marked by a Chinese joint visited once and forever imprinted; and then the church, and another hospital before the chaos of Mohammad Ali Road, with its fragrant set of restaurants, before VT, which was my mark to reluctantly make my way to the lower deck. And then we’d take a taxi to my parents’ friends home, within sight of Radio Club, where the adults would chatter away, and I’d be waiting to get home.

We’d head back, usually, at night. The return journey started at Electric House, with the 6 Ltd. Unless it was very late, in which case Dad would splurge on a taxi. As much as I dredge my memory, I don’t recall much of those return trips. I guess I slept through them, because all I recall is a blur of light and speed. In later years, I’ve come to know those sights better, as the boy-who-had-to-be-at-school-by-seven changed to the man-who-worked-into-the-wee-hours-by-choice.

And, ever so often, just for the memory, I take a bus back through the length of the city, even it means I have to change to another one to get me home, across the creek.


Published in Outlook's City Limits Mumbai, October 16th, 2006.

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October 15, 2006

Mousetrap - 74

In their own words
The South Asian Literary Recordings Project
Whoop-di-doo! Just right to fill in those gaps in my iPod. If you’re an admirer of fine writing, and, by extension, of its exponents, you’ll love this. Brainchild of the USA’s Library of Congress Delhi office, it was set up to celebrate the LoC’s overseas bicentennial. It features well-loved authors reading from their own writing. You’ll find Mulk Raj Anand, Faiz, Kaifi Azmi, Keki Daruwalla, a certain A B Vajpayee (as a poet, not a speechmaker, thankfully) and many, many others, over eighty of them in all, in recordings ranging from 30 to 60 minutes long, in 22 languages from all over the region. Warts and all—accents, mistakes stumbles, and the more endearing for that. And yes, all available free, in Real Audio, and the more friendly MP3 format. Bliss.

The world’s longest Fw:
Yahoo! Time Capsule
I stand accused of featuring way too many Google products. To which I say, hey, they do a lot of cool stuff! (Yeah, yeah, okay, we’re a G-roupie.) Anyway, to prove our secular credentials, here’s a cool Yahoo project. Caveat: you’ll need a Yahoo ID. Up to the 8th November, you can contribute images, text, audio, video—from your personal archive or created specially for this—to one of the categories of what they call an electronic anthropology project. They say it’s “the first time that digital data will be gathered and preserved for historical purposes.” (I think not. I recall several others, one of which I featured here.) These contributions will be handed into the care of the Smithsonian Folkways Recordings.

Star treatment
Anousheh Ansari Space Blog
A few weeks ago, the world’s first female space tourist (as in, not somone who had qualified as an astronaut, but paid her way with lots of money) took off in a Russian spacecraft and spent time at the International Space Station. And, as seems inevitable these days, she blogged it all. As with her little jaunt, she had help with the blog, but there is a lot of stuff she’s written. There’s also a Flickr photo set and her personal site. Go relive the journey with her.

Boom
The ORIGINAL Illustrated Catalog Of ACME Products
A little bonus for cartoon fans. Remember the Roadrunner cartoons? And how Wile E Coyote always seemed to get clobbered / burned / flattened by stuff with an “ACME” brand name? Well, this fan has curated a comprehensive set of them. Enjoy.


Reader suggestions welcome, and will be acknowledged. Go to http://o3.indiatimes.com/mousetrap for past columns, and to comment, or mail inthemousetrap@indiatimes.com. The writer blogs at http://zigzackly.blogspot.com.

Published in the Times of India, Mumbai edition, 15th October, 2006.

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October 08, 2006

Mousetrap - 73

Sync or swim
Gidol!
Got a digicam? Think you can make better music videos than the pros? This is for you. Gidol (originally called Google Idol, if memory serves, but not connected with either Google or any of the various country-name-here franchises of American Idol) is a global contest where anyone can post amateur videos set to well-known music. Members vote on entries in the contests, and winners get inducted into the hall of fame. Which may not be much, but hey, it’s better than putting up with the sneering of whoever’s been cast as the Bad Guy judge. (Incentive? The lads behind one video got an advertising contract from a cola MNC.) By the time you read this, entries will have closed on Gidol’s first Bollywood-themed contest, but you’ll be just in time to check out the results.

Attention-deficit stories
55 word fiction
Flash stories, also called short-shorts, are very short stories, usually not more than 500 words, frequently less. Micro-flash specifies far lower word counts, and fifty-fivers are even tighter: not more (and, the purists insist, no less) than 55 words. Here, you’ll find attempts from the blog world. Not one of them longer than this paragraph. (Which was 55 words precisely. Not including the contents of this parenthetic statement. Gah. Now I’ve ruined it.)

Edward Lear would be so proud
The Omnificent English Dictionary In Limerick Form
This rather unusual lexicographer;
His online word finder is half a
standard dictionary,
but it’s extraordinary,
’Cause the definitions are all perfect limericks, unlike this one.

How does your garden grow?
Gardentia
Great site for the amateur gardener who fell asleep in Biology class back in school. No, really. It lists plants not just by scientific names, but also by common names, including quite a few in Indian languages. Each one has a picture, description, and basic care instructions. There are also some articles and features worth reading, whether you have a proper garden or just a window box. The database isn’t perfect; family names aren’t clickable, but have to be scrolled through, for instance. I guess that’s because it’s still “under construction” (which it has been for ages). Should have been “still being planted” or something like that, no?

Reader suggestions welcome, and will be acknowledged. Go to http://o3.indiatimes.com/mousetrap for past columns, and to comment, or mail inthemousetrap@indiatimes.com. The writer blogs at http://zigzackly.blogspot.com.

Published in the Times of India, Mumbai edition, 8th October, 2006.

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October 01, 2006

Udaya [Restaurant review]

In the days of one’s miss-spent youth in Chembur, Udaya was one of our choices for an evening out. Simple reasons, really. Dark, dingy, not too much of a mark-up on the beer, and decent chakna. All that a growing lad needs.
Life moves on, and so do we. And a decade-and-some passes. And, one day, one hears that there was this great place for aappams in the former home-burb. Further questioning reveals that it’s a respectable place near the station, called Udaya. Could it be, could it be..? And indeed it turns out that it is. A few years ago, Udaya refurbished itself, getting all bright and cheery. And has developed a reputation for excellent Kerala food. Thanks to early exposure to said cuisine, one’s response to mentions of aapams and ishtew is, very literally, Pavlovian. So, hauling in tongue, one repaired to Chembur forthwith, drinking buddy of one’s youth in tow. Beer was quaffed (purely for old times’ sake, one hastens to assure you), while waiters were commissioned. Obviously, the punjabi/mughlai/chinese sectionn was scorned, and we debated the merits of chicke, fish and mutton. And, in a bit, soft, fragrant aapams arrived, accompanied with a bowl of Irachi Ishtu (mutton stew to you and me). Heretic friend opted for Meen Urukiyathu (fish flavoured very heavily with tamarind) and Neichoru (a rather heavy rice preparation) and then proceeded to tick into my stew. The quantity, fortunately, was enough to survive his depradations, or old friendships be damned, one would have finished his beer. Yes, excellent stew it was. And you know what? The waiter told us that the place had always served Mallu food. I guess we, erm, didn’t notice back then in the day.

~ Peter Griffin

Udaya Family Restaurant
Shrama Safalya Building, Near Railway Station, Chembur, Mumbai 400071
Phone: 25214628, 25218792 (Home delivery available)
Hours: 11.00am-4.00pm - 07.00pm-12.00pm
Cuisine: Kerala. Also Chinese, Punjabi, Moghlai. Serves beer.

Published in Time Out.

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The Planter's Life

Ran as one of two articles on the subject. Do get your hands on the piece that ran alongside about similar stuff in the coffee plantations of Coorg, by Usha Rao Banerjee. One irony: Ms Banerjee says she's a tea person. I usually prefer coffee. :)

The wind soughing in the trees—nay, conducting loud conversations, making little jokes and chortling at them, shrieking every now and then—streams burbling away around every corner, serried ranks of tea bushes covering every hill, green turning blue in the distance... Argh. And the prose turns purple. The hills have a way of doing that to you, up there in the clouds near Munnar.

And no, I don’t mean the parts of Munnar and its neighbourhood that have been the joy of tourists and travellers for the last century and a bit. (Not that Munnar is anything to scoff about; like Brighton, it is Bracing, even if a bit overrun with holiday-makers.)

Munnar is tea country, you see, and most of the land there, including most of the town, is owned by tea plantations, acres of rolling hillside covered by tea bushes as far as the eye can see, dotted here and there with sets of barrack-style blocks of houses that were formerly known as coolie lines (now more politically correctly referred to as workers’ lines, though the job has remain unchanged), occasionally also an in-plantation tea factory, and perched on some vantage point, the planter’s bungalow.

And, till not so long ago, the only way you could find yourself living in one of those bungalows was if you worked for a plantation company, or knew someone who did. Neither of which I can claim. But here we are, watching the mist roll down from the higher mountains, slowly blurring the outlines of the hills in the middle distance, and a polite cook is murmuring the lunch options while we sip our morning cuppa on the porch of a gen-oo-wine planters’ bungalow. How now, brown cow? Let me explain. I’ll have to cram in some history. Stay with me.

In the late 1800s, many an ambitious sahib—and not a few younger sons—began experimenting with various commercial crops. Coffee and various spices were tried, before I was generally agreed that the land best supported tea. Vast tracts of hillsides were cleared, and in 1877, the first tea bushes were planted. (They’re still going strong, by the way.) Over the years, many of the smaller plantations merged, or were bought over by the larger ones, until, just before the turn of the century, the James Finlay Group acquired pretty much the whole shebang. Some 33 estates were put under the management of the Kanan Devan Hills Produce Company. In the 1960s, the Tata group bought in, and the company became Tata Finlay. In ’76, the Tataa bought out the Finlay group, and the company became Tata-Finlay Ltd , and later, in 1983, it was all just Tata Tea Ltd. This century hasn’t been kind to the Indian tea industry, though—no, this isn’t that kind of magazine, son, we’ll leave the details to the business glossies—and for reasons too complex to get into here, in 2005, Tata Tea transferred ownership of the plantations to a company formed by its employees, the Kanan Devan Hills Plantation Company. KDHP controls roughly 95% of the privately-owned land around Munnar. The only other players around are Harrison Malayalam, with a couple of plantations, and the Woodbriar group, which bought over a former HLL-owned plantation (of which more anon).

KDHP didn’t have it all easy. The increasing competitiveness of the tea market suggested that they’d need a spot of bet-hedging. And, quite nicely for them, a bit of down-sizing had left a few managers’ bungalows tenantless. This year, they began letting in guests, starting with a half-dozen properties under the brand name The Tea Sanctuary (somebody got a raise for that bit of positioning, I’m sure). And in the porch of one of these edifices is the jolly sight of a jaded Bombay writer sipping tea and scribbling in a notebook.

The Woodbriar Group’s foray into hospitality differs in the details—their properties once belonged to HLL—and while they’re a small player in Munnar, with just one plantation, they have substantial holdings in Tamil Nadu.

There we are, all up to date and knowledgeable. (You can come back now, laddie.)
We were the guests of both The Tea Sanctuary (living in one bungalow, and being given the grand tour of several others) and Woodbriar (in the Talliar Valley Bungalow, Munnar, and the Stanmore Bungalow, Valparai). While each of the properties we saw was unique in terms of location, exteriors, plan and décor, they did have enough in common to give you a general description. Single-story structures, they’re built in the rambling colonial style, with large gardens, garage areas off to one side (or what were stables), connected, but separate kitchens and staff quarters. The structures are of that era, with thick walls and doors, high roofs, long passageways, you get the picture. Both companies have gone to some pain to ensure that the original (or appropriate) fixtures and furniture enhance the heritage experience; you’ll find even the cutlery bearing old British hallmarks. I can vouch for the authenticity of it all; never have I been so afflicted with nostalgia pangs for my grandparents’ bungalow. Except for the fireplaces (which the old folks didn’t need, in their coastal home), it all rang true.

The bedrooms here were uniformly large and airy, with large attached toilet-cum-bathrooms. There are concessions to the weather and technology here, with proper plumbing and water-heaters. Living- and dining-rooms are shared, but since there are never more than two other sets of guests on the premises, it still all stays nice and cosy.

You have a small staff at your disposal. A butler/housekeeper, a cook, and perhaps a gardener. The Woodbriar folk score higher here, as well as on the food front. That is, when it comes to the authenticity bit. While both claim to cater to Indian or English palates, the KDHP staff haven’t quite got the hang of it yet, while Woodbriar rocks. In fact the cook at Stanmore lead all the rest, rustling up bakes and pies that sent me off on another misty-eyed trip to the past. KDHP, with its huge holdings and presence in Munnar, makes up with in the add-ons it can offer, like temporary membership at its clubs, access to its private fishing lake and the like.

At all the properties, you’re offered a rather special experience. The crisp, fresh air, cool climate, and all around, up hill and down dale, rolling miles of so many shades of green that it makes your heart lurch with joy. The clouds are ever-near, birds sing, a rabbit may hop across your path... it’s enough to make a romantic out of anyone.

And a good thing too. Because the house and the environment are all you’ll get. Be very clear: the shops and restaurants, the hi-speed net access and the boutiques, the fleshpots in general; they’re all at an inconvenient distance. So you’d better go there with someone you love. Or at least get along with. And just let the plantation experience take over.


The information

The Tea Sanctuary (Kanan Devan Hills Plantation Co Pvt Ltd) currently has 6 properties available, Parvathi (3.5 km from Munnar), Sevenmallay (3.5 km), Chokknad (5km), Kanniamallay (6 km), Yallapaty (26km) and Southaparai (28km). All have three double rooms, except Chokknad, which has two. The company is considering including another 11 bungalows in the Tea Sanctuary fold.
Tariffs: Rs 6,000 to Rs 6,500 per room per day (packages for longer stays are available), which includes breakfast. Lunch and Dinner can be prepared at Rs 250 (veg) / 350 (n.v.), with mineral water, snacks, etcetera extra. (The irony: the tea company doesn’t throw in any free pots of tea.) Arrangements for airport pickups (Munnar is 135 km drive from Cochin), sightseeing, vehicle or bicycle hire, guides, etcetera can be made at cost. Tariff includes temporary membership at the High Range Club and the Kundaley club, with access to the facilities. Sports facilities cost around Rs 100 per hour. Golf at either course, however, will set you back Rs 1000 a game (and you must visit the Kundaley Club even if you don’t play; it’s a stunningly beautiful location). As will a session of angling for rainbow trout in a private lake far away from the madding crowd.
Contact: Web: www.theteasanctuary.com/. Email: tourism.munnar@kdhptea.co.in. Phone: Munnar: (04865) 230561-5; Delhi: (011) 41644787. Or via Kaizen Hospitality.

The Woodbriar Group’s Talliar Valley Bungalow is about 22km from Munnar. And its Stanmore Bungalow is a few kilometres out of Valparai in Tamil Nadu, a four-hour drive from Coimbatore. Both have three doubles, with the possibility of putting in an extra bed in some rooms. The company plans to open a few more of their bungalows to guests soon.
Tariffs: Rs 6000 per room per day (packages available). Includes all meals, plus organised activities including picnics, visits to the factory, cutting and making your own tea, even planting a tea bush that will bear your name, if you wish. Sightseeing, pickups, etcetera can be arranged through the staff.
Contact: Vinoo Robert, +91 9895030563, vinoo.robert@teil.in, www.briar.in/

[Not in the published article]
Other notes.
The plantations are all in pretty remote areas. Landlines are available, which is good, because the only cellphone service provider in those areas is BSNL, which does not permit private operator subscribers to roam on its network.
Net access? Hah.
If you’re driving, remember that plantation roads are usually rutted, steep and tortuous. Yes, even more so than standard issue hill roads. And even the ones that are a mere few kilometres away from civilisation will take a good half-hour of careful driving by the novice. And yes. This is mist country. Fog lamps are genuinely useful here.

Published in Outlook Traveller, October 2006.

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Mousetrap - 72

Regal largesse
Royal Society Journals Digital Archive
It’s the longest-running journal in science, with Volume One, Issue One published in March 1665. And every issue from that one up to the current lot is available on the site now, for free. But. Only up to December this year. Nearly 60,000 articles, with pretty much the who’s who of science in the bylines list, names familiar to us from high school science and everyday life. A small sampling: Bohr, Boyle, Cavendish, Chandrasekhar, Crick, Darwin, Davy, Faraday, Fermi, Fleming, Franklin, Halley, Hawking, Heisenberg, Herschel, Hodgkin, Huxley, Joule, Kelvin, Linnaeus, Lister, Marconi, Newton, Pavlov, Pepys, Priestley, Raman, Rutherford, Schrodinger, Turing, Volta, Watt, Wren.. But why am I prattling on? Go see! You have less than three-and-a-half months to catch up with three-and-a-half centuries of scientific study.

Democracy. Kind of.
PutVote
Social bookmarking has taken off big time over the last year or so. Works pretty easy: you find something you like (or not), you link to it via a bookmarking site, which your pals—and the web at large—can share. Your pals—and other members— may choose to mark those too, driving more traffic to the sites and pages linked to. Bloggers, linkers all, love these too. PutVote is, on the surface, just another of dozens of sites that offer pretty much the same service. Where it differs is its attitude. It’s focussed on India and Indians, has a sense of humour, and has a bunch of regular users already. Try it out. You can always vote by not voting.

Hair today
Men's Long Hair Hyperboard & Men's Long Hair Site
I’m indulging myself with this one, since I haven’t been to a barber in over a decade. I’m not completely something left over from a previous era, I find, since I see a lot of men wearing their hair long these days. Gentlemen, I have a clear lead, but take heart; genetics is having its way with me and there’s rather more forehead visible than when I started out. Anyway, the site’s names explain themselves, so go check them out. The second does not seem to have been updated since 1999, but it has several interesting pages, including pictures of styles you could use. The “hyperboard” is still active, though, so go snoop on the discussion threads there, and perhaps you could join in, if you wear your hair long.

Reader suggestions welcome, and will be acknowledged. Go to http://o3.indiatimes.com/mousetrap for past columns, and to comment, or mail inthemousetrap@indiatimes.com. The writer blogs at http://zigzackly.blogspot.com.

Published in the Times of India, Mumbai edition, 1st October, 2006.

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Cybertrack - 13

http://whc.unesco.org/

If you're looking to make a list of places to see before you die (or the rupee crashes) the World Heritage Centre has choices for you. The WHC List is a long one—830 sites in 138 countries after the last set of additions in 2005—and covers both natural and cultural heritage. You will be spoiled for choice: from the archaeological remains in Afghanistan's Bamiyan Valley (no Standing Buddhas, alas) to Zimbabwe's Mana Pools National Park, Sapi and Chewore Safari Areas. Monuments, ruins, nature preserves, hot, cold, temperate, sea, islands, plains, mountains, you name it. Aside from basic information, many of the locations feature external links; there's an interactive map, an interface with Google Earth, ways to get involved in preservation, and more. Too much choice? Start with the 34 on the Danger List. Before they disappear. You must make your own arrangements though—no convenient tie-ups for online booking—and though WHC proclaims that these sites belong to all the peoples of the world, irrespective of the territory on which they are located, you will need to get visas. Or you could just start with the 26 in India. My score is a measly 6½. Editor Sahib?

Published in Outlook Traveller, October 2006.

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