Thursday, 31 July 2014

SIGN On travel auRA with the Skyscanner Travel Wizard!

For someone like me, who has traveled reasonably wide enough, from South Africa to Sri Lanka, from Canada to Australia, the thing I have dreaded the most in my past trips has been: yes, travel planning!

I have often joked with family & friends that merely planning the trip requires a vacation so i can relax and get back to being myself so that i can enjoy the actual planned travel!

Not anymore!

We thankfully live in the age of hAPPiness - an era where Apps bring us immense relief, adventure and happiness.

Skyscanner Travel Wizard is my favorite these days.  Both the website and the mobile App (across platforms). 

This blog post is titled to begin 'SIGN O RA' for two pertinent reasons:

1. Say Sayonara (Japanese for "Goodbye") to travel planning woes; instead, sign on to travel aura with Skyscanner.

2. Plan a delectable trip to the "Love in Tokyo" land, Japan.

My fascination with Japan, as a place I would like to travel to, owes its origin to the Hindi Bollywood movie, "Love in Tokyo".

Well, its an age-old classic, made in 1966.  Yes, most of us weren't even born.

But, thanks to archives and home video, have fallen in love with the locales.

I start with a modest budget of Rs.100,000 (approximately USD 1,645 on current forex rates) for the entire trip.  My intention is to have a full fledged two week (15 days) trip - because such trips, usually, are once in a lifetime - so I rather exhaustively enjoy the trip during a sumptuous fortnight period.   

Never mind the budget, Skyscanner makes my tryst with this dream trip such a delightful courtship, in itself:

I log on to Skyscanner and as I always do, first do a one-way flight ticket search - call it a superstition if you will, i always check that first when I embark on a trip (to me, that is an indicator if the trip can be possible within my budget - call it my thumb rule, if you will):

In this case, because my screenshots will be wider and more beautiful, I have showcased the website directly (and not on my mobile phone):

By my thumb rule, that Rs. 30,807 for a one-way fare means I can now comfortably embark on searching real options for my real trip, within my budget of Rs.100,000.

Japan, here I come ..

I now get on to Skyscanner's Travel Wizard full throttle:

I look for all flight options between my city and Tokyo.  

The wizard beautifully throws up the duration and dates I chose, searches all available options, the best price, warns me my preference of going without stops is not available, shows me one and two stops options and best of all, tells me the nuances - like, if I am checking bags, it may cost me additional fees (ah, thanks for being sensitive to my budget, right at the outset).

I have illustrated all the aforesaid points with sky blue ovals and arrows in the below screenshot:

The utility of this Skyscanner wizard is - it allows me the freedom of optimum choice.  It doesn't impose. It doesn't recommend. It searches hard and fast and provides me everything on a platter for me to make my choice.

Well, I'm quite a traveler and will never choose the 'cheapest' or the 'most expensive' options ever! trust me.  I go for my 'optimum' option.

For flights, I choose the Cathay Pacific return trip ticket to Tokyo Narita.  Main reasons include my airline preference, both the arrival and departure being from the same airport (makes me psychologically at home), optimum flight duration and of course, single stop.

Best of all, it shows me what other websites will charge me for the same flight on the same date for the same parameters.  Love it Skyscanner!

Flight tickets: Done! Rs. 45,328.  

Any traveler will agree, that was the easy part.

Now, especially being a fortnight long trip, comes the real challenge: a suitable place of stay, safe, within the budget, as close to the city center with my choice of amenities.  That reads as HEADACHE! 

Thankfully, Skyscanner threw up a plethora of tried and tested options - take a look:

I loved it that the wizard intuitively picked up my travel dates and city from my flight search, took it onto the hotel search and provided all the options:

Life's never been a breeze .. yeah!

Look how quickly I narrowed in on my choice of stay: a hostel, in the center of Tokyo, rated very good and a ranking of 8.2, two star, with great attractions nearby and most important of all - cleanliness, safety and that indispensable free wireless internet carrot! I am done! 

Cost: Rs. 23,811.

So, total budget expended thus far:

Return Flight tickets + Ho(s)tel = Rs. 45,328 + 23,811 = Rs. 69,139.

I can also set up price alerts on the smart wizard so if there is any price advantage opportunity before my date of travel, the wizard will email me! Woohoo!

That leaves Rs. 30,861 from my budget of Rs.100,000 for food, local travel, admission fee to local interests and shopping :) At current rates to the Japanese Yen, that would be a cool 52,155 Japanese Yen (at 1.69 Yen to an Indian Rupee). Super cool and should give me cushion enough for sundry medical and other supplies, if need be. 

Oh by the way, Skyscanner also allows car and bus booking for any city in the world.  I didn't book a car because I am not the driving type and prefer public transport and hail taxis when I travel.  The wizard, exactly as intuitively as it took over details from my flight search to hotels, does it for cars as well, in case you will be interested. Cars can be booked for daily rental or for the entire period of travel. 

I can't believe its been this easy planning the trip out. So, here's how I will experience my love in Tokyo:

Places I will see:

I will start off by exhausting all the attractions nearest to my place of stay, including the Imperial palace, the Tokyo Sky Tree, the temples, museums and parks near it. I will then top it off with the following visits, spread over my period of stay:

Sensoji, the ancient Buddhist temple

Nakamise, the shopping center

The East Garden (I guess that is combined with the Imperial Palace visit) - but I call it out separately because I am an incurable garden enthusiast. 

Tokyo Disneyland :)

The Ginza - remember, I am a born fashionista and this is the city's high fashion center.

Akhihabara Electric Town

Sanrio Puroland, Hello Kitty's home :)

Kubukiza Theater (drama) - the only theater in Japan with shows every month; I'm very fond of theater as a genre and am a literature enthusiast.

Tokyo Tower

Beyond this, as I always do, I will go on walks across the city, explore and connect with the locales, their culture and cuisine (subject to just one restricition, I am vegetarian :) 

I will use the public transport modes, such as the Metro and subway for all the visits.

Things I will bring along:

I am a stickler for shopping from the local communities (avoiding middlemen). So, here's my must bring list:

The famous Japanese folding fan - thanks to Asha Parekh, the heroine of the movie "Love In Tokyo", this is a must bring topper for me.

Hello Kitty snacks and fancy jewelry

Phone accessories

Watermelon bagels

Personalized electronics (remember, I told you I will visit the Akhihabara Electric Town?) - i can get super cool personalized electronics from pollen mask (I am allergic) to USB vibration helmet :)

Sushi ear buds!

Wow - I am living it up there, already.  Can't wait for September 30, the date I put in for the start of my trip. 

In the meantime, I am busy humming this memorable 'Sayonara' song from the movie 'Love in Tokyo' (this movie had fantastic music and also has two more of my all time favorite songs):

My trip is yet to begin and you ought not wonder why I am singing a goodbye song :)

I am celebrating my goodbye to travel planning woes!

And signing on to travel aura with Skyscanner :)

Hope you enjoyed my trip planning as much as I had a gala time!

This post is a part of Skyscanner Skyscanner travel wizard activity at 

Cheers :)

Sunday, 27 July 2014

My Tryst with Black Mystery!

Color black has been associated with mystery from time immemorial.

Here is presenting my fascination for and tryst with the color in the form of my 'mysterious' black wishlist - the 'black' things I oh so wish for and for mighty good reasons:

1.  Black Box - the aviation flight recorder:

Well, to start with, this is not technically in 'black' color.  Nevertheless, flight recorders (including the flight data recorders and the cockpit voice recorders) are commonly referred to as 'black boxes'.

First used in 1958, the term 'black box' has come to represent and denote the flight recorder; though the flight recorders are not black, but often, orange in color. The origin of the term is uncertain and its almost never technically used within the aviation industry. Its popularly though, almost always, referred to as the 'black box' in our times.

Built to last extreme conditions, finding the black box often bears the key to unraveling mysterious airline accidents and incidents.

Now, ask me why do I have a 'black box' in my black wishlist? Because we are beset by troubling mysterious airline accidents in 2014.  It hurts me that humanity has not been able to do much.  Hence, I want a black box so I can study, research, dismantle it - host it online and start an initiative for crowd-sourcing ideas to remodel all the black boxes (with least cost and in a very universal, ingenious way) - such that, never again in human history will we have mysterious airline disappearances. Period.

2.  'Black Magic' Wand:


Yes, the next item on my black wishlist is actually a black magic wand!

Like this one - a jet black, wooden magic wand:

hmm.. if you are wondering why on earth I have a black magic wand as a wishlist item, here goes:

See, firstly, 'black magic' has been much maligned, over the centuries.  I want to give 'black magic' its due .. by doing a lot of social work with it .. thus undoing the malign its been engulfed in.  Now, that is one heck of magic already .. undoing even as I will be doing! Phew!

Please allow me to explain:

Many of our current social maladies -- for example, crime against women in India, appear beyond our collective social means.  I want to use the supernatural power of black magic to set these right .. forever. Powerfully. Irreversibly. 

Great power, as we all know only too well by now, comes with great responsibility. So, I will be forming a consortium of sorts with fellow 'do good' enthusiasts to administer this great power with, indeed, great responsibility - for the most optimal social good.

3.  Black Hole:

This wishlist item on my black wishlist closely trails and logically follows the last item, the 'black magic' wand.

This will be, in fact, a partner in undoing crime, with the 'black magic' wand.

How, you ask?

A black hole, by definition, is a region of spacetime, from which, gravity prevents anything from escaping - even light!  A black hole could be stellar or super massive, among other types. I am fine with either or both.

I will make sure all the perpetrators of heinous crimes against women and humanity are held within one black hole, preferably a super massive black hole.  These don't necessarily or always have to be human - the perpetrators, i mean. These can also be things - such as things of mass destruction. Holding them in a black hole will ensure they never fall in any hands - right or wrong - because the result they are capable of exuding - is always wrong, anyways!

Now, comes the stellar punch - after I & the consortium of 'do good' enthusiasts clean up the world - i will ensure the 'black magic' wand itself - the reservoir of great power - is stored within a separate 'stellar black hole'. Nature's best vault, i would think. What say?

I know my solution(s) are offbeat - but then, tell me, don't desperate times call for desperate measures? There we go!

4.   Mysterious Black Tattoo:

I am a geek & a nerd, in as much as, most of us, in our times are.

Now, what does that have to do with a tattoo or my black wishlist?

I want to transport a bit of my preoccupation with 'gif' from my online activities onto the tattoo.

That is,  I want a mysterious black tattoo that is 'gif' like, as in, it moves (unlike traditional tattoos which are more 'image' or 'picture' like). 

Now, imagine how this mysterious 'sirius black' tattoo will look, a la gif - moving, to bat the eye lid, to shed tears or to exude joy:

I know, you are convinced why a 'gif' like, moving, animated tattoo makes it to my black wishlist.

Time to move on ..

5.  A Black Mole:

Did you know, the study of moles is called 'Moleosophy'?

The next item on my black wishlist is a cutesy black mole.  Like this:

Its cute, of course. 

The other reasons why I want a cute black mole are that it adds to personal aura & mystique, makes it an unique natural identification and fascinates friends and acquaintances, thereby, often becoming a conversation starter! Who needs ice breakers when one has a cute black mole? 

So, that is my rather 'offbeat' black wishlist. Hope you find it more a scoop than a spoof :)

This post is a part of the WhatTheBlack activity at

Cheers :)

Besotted with Black

Well, my wishlist has never been in black & white! 

I never write my wishlist down .. that is about to change today as I sit down to chronicle how I am besotted with black and the five black things I wish for!

Hop on ..

My Black wishlist

1.  Black Ice Cream:

I think, black, as a color, is more often than not, ascribed 'serious' stature - be it fashionable or formal; be it ceremonies or congregations.

Oh yes, I want to bring a fun & frolic flavor to the color black. Right away.

So, the first item on my black wishlist, is actually, black ice cream!

Ever walked into an ice cream parlor and found black ice cream? No!

So, i want to bring this 'black sesame ice cream' - a Japanese ice cream flavor to my life as well as yours!

So, get the recipe by clicking on the aforesaid 'image courtesy' link & start whipping up taste & fun - coded black!

2.  Black Opal:

Being a born jewellerista makes me an ardent gemstone lover. Also an aficionado, at that. 

Among the most expensive, treasured and valuable gems is the Black Opal.

A black opal is among the rarest of gemstones. A black opal is far more expensive than - hold your breath, even diamonds. The dark background of the black opal ensures that the colors diffracted by the opal stand out very strikingly.

That ensures the black opal is right at number two on my black wishlist.

3.  Black (Tahitian) Pearl:

Start me off with jewelry and am I likely to stop or what?

Right next on my black wishlist is the exceptionally perfect & beautiful Tahitian black pearl.

Created by black lipped oysters, mainly in the South Seas & originating mainly in the Tahiti island, a thick black pearl is what I am looking for - because, thicker its nacre, the longer the black pearl will stay beautiful.  Accentuating my jewelry collection.

I long for it because of its rarity, treasured status for jewelry aficionados & its stunning as well as sublime appeal, at once!

4.  LBD - The Quintessential Black Dress:

Ahem! Ahem!

Being a fashionista, close on the heels of being a jewellerista, means, this was coming .. isn't it?

The only surprise element though - is - the LBD here, in my black wishlist, is not the 'little black dress'. Its indeed a 'long black dress'.

A long, swaying black dress in my favorite sheer fabric, complete with lace & celebrated with sequins:

I want it to be my 'go to' dress for all occasions celebratory - be it a fashion show visit or a party or a regal get together!

Or, just simply, for me to try it on when fancy strikes. 

5.  Black (Apple) iPad:

The next item on my black wishlist is actually the Apple iPad, in black color!

Ever since the iPad's advent, if you observe closely, the white color variant & the black color variant have been on a sibling rivalry of sorts!

I want the black iPad for - not myself, but to gift it to Dad.  The man who stayed patiently beside me, when I came home an incurable tomboy with a black eye!  

His gadgets are mostly black and I think this one looks stately and oh so made for him.

That rounds up my most desired five black things - my prized black wishlist!

Hope you enjoyed my black wishlist. What's yours?

This post is a part of the WhatTheBlack activity at

Cheers :)

Monday, 21 July 2014


Zest is what 'est'ablishes life! Sustains it meaningfully.

Zest is what distinguishes living from merely existing. Zest is the all important ingredient that adds meaning to moments thereby transforming moments to experiences.

A life without Zest, i guess, just rests! Hopefully, in peace, if at all.

Zest is as much internal as it is external. We derive it from a host of things, people and situations that add to our energy and enthusiasm thus adding meaning to our life.  It is internal to the extent we harmonize it within ourselves, keeping it alive and kicking.  I call it receiving as zest and converting it to internal adrenalin.

So, what adds Zest to my life? Here is a sneak peek into my Zest-O-Meter, let me know if you think its the usual suspects or not:

1. Sports:

For someone who played sports earlier, I famously call myself 'born spectator' (yeah, after Oscar Wilde's famous coinage) thereafter.

Tennis, Soccer, Cricket and F1 kick-start, ace & accelerate the zest in my life.

Be it watching test cricket at Lord's or classic tennis at Wimbledon or watching my favorites Germany lift the FIFA World Cup or darling Sebastian Vettel ace the F1 circuits of the world, Zest it is - at its purest.  

2.  Gemstones and Jewelry

Again, for a born jewellerista (yeah, to jewelry what a fashionista is to fashion), gemstones and jewelry actually converse with me.

The pastel and bright hued gems, their translucence, their depth, their cuts and settings add sparkle and zest to my life. 

Dreaming about them, designing them .. from dreams to reality, carefully overseeing them being set, adorning them and cherishing them makes for a lifetime of zestful association.

3.  Tryst with Movies

I am a fan of storytelling, at soul.

A well told story - be it comedy, tragedy or irony - for that matter, adds tremendous zest and meaning - to millions and billions of lives.

Such is the power of the visual and audio-visual medium.

Naturally, therefore, watching movies adds zest to my life. 

Be it the classics or the contemporaries, be it romcom or art, be it Hollywood or Bollywood  - irrespective of period, geography and genre, movies such as The Roman Holiday, Sound of Music, You've Got Mail, Cast Away, Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, Jab We Met and a whole host of other Hindi and English classics and contemporaries add reels of zest to my life. 

4.  A Career

Life, is, a journey; not a guided tour.

We all make our journeys, one choice and one investment at a time.

Nothing - absolutely nothing - can add more zest and meaning to my life than my very hard-earned career.

The vitality, sense of purpose and meaningful achievement a career adds to my life and identity is unique and without parallel.

I long to get back to this dimension of zest in my life .. 

5.  Companionship - A Life Partner & Family

Life, sure, is a journey. 

But what adds zest to it is not limited only to things or situations.  In a very big measure, its the people - that grace our life.  Adding zest, security, companionship and foundation to our life.

No wonder this appears last in the list - for, its the most elusive yet more elevating form of adding zest to life.

An understanding life partner, an enduring companionship for life, a small and well-knit family of one's own can add zest to life by leaps and bounds, untouched by any misery the times could and would wrought on us!

Now, that was a sneak peek in to my life's Zest-O-Meter. 

Like it?

What's yours? 

This post is a part of the Zest Up Your Life activity in association with Tata Zest and

Cheers :) 

Note: I have made the image collages using publicly available images; copyright for which rest with their respective owners; this blog gratefully acknowledges and thanks the copyright owners of the images.