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Thursday, March 20, 2014

Nalanda to New York!

And the countdown began as the Indian Gentleman (with a foreign accent) told me; ‘Your visa is approved Ma’am, you will receive it in about three days!’ I was finally going to US and to a city which is full of life- New York!
And the next couple of days were spent juggling between finishing work before going, shopping and anxiety of getting the passport in time; after all I had only four days in between before I left for Delhi. I am based at Nalanda, which is a district in Bihar famous for its oldest university (which is now a heritage site) and here I was going to visit a place which has the most famous university (in my eyes) - COLUMBIA! Nothing much of a commonality but then I could now brag to have seen both places after this trip!
 With a series of processes at the airport- luggage check in, security check, immigration and then a long wait! The flight was to be boarded at 1:30 am on 7th March 2014. My Mom called to remind me to stay awake (Lol she actually thought I might sleep and miss the flight!).  An organized boarding with seat numbers announced for 30 K and I excitedly moved towards the Gate 24 B. Delhi showcases a beautiful International Airport with facilities and cleanliness unlike outside the premises. AI 101 flight was non- stop from Delhi to New York City! It was a 15 hour flight with amazing co-passengers! Chris was traveling back home after spending 1 month working as a volunteer teaching English in a school in Bihar! Connection- I work in Bihar! Gail was returning to US after her week-long trip to India, again a connection-I was going to US for a week! They filled me in with US and New York-places to see. And I made my checklist for New York-places to see and things to try! And guess what? I ‘check-ed’ them ALL and many more!
We travelled most places on subway train or ‘The Sub’ as it is called. It is the life-line of New York and the most interesting area. You can watch music playing, art and lovers, travelling across the Sub. The day I visited Central park; I was told that sun had peeped out for the first time after many months! Wonderful isn’t it? Central park was so huge with cycle and jogging tracks inside! It also had a huge lake which was beginning to melt away. With our tummies rumbling, we tried Falafal sandwich which is a vegetarian cutlet-type thing and pretzels-another salted bun-like eatable. Next stop, Metropolitan Museum of Art was out of the world experience with so many collectibles ranging from sculptures to articrafts to paintings and what not! In about 2 and half hours we could only see 4 sections which was not even 1/3 rd of it! Roman and Greek sculptures and American wing museum was simply breathtaking!
Going to NYC (New York City) as it is called, how could I miss going to a live music playing bar! Flatiron room was simply live-wire; dancing to three singers who obviously enjoyed themselves as they made merry with the audience! Saw the famous ball hanging at the Times Square which comes down on the New Year Eve. It was like screen shots flashing at Time Square with adds ranging from fashion to ‘Get famous for a minute’ to NYPD (New York Police Department- which is actually a great crush with t-shirts and hoodies named after them!) We even got clicked with our very own sergeant from NYPD and glad he was to oblige the ladies! And I got some art work done for me by a local artist at Time Square- although it didn’t look much like me! Mentioning Macy’s store, which is the largest store of the World is an absolute necessity- what fun it was to shop there (most of it window shopping, damn why is USD so costly!)
St Patrik’s Cathedral which was under construction though open to public was a beautiful part of my trip. It was so amazingly built with carefully done sculptures at every corner- Dad you had to be there- you would have loved it! With silent prayers we moved on see Rockfeller centre, which is a huge collection of corporate buildings. It also has an ice skating ring there- what fun watching people do it! (No, I didn’t try it; I didn’t want to break my legs/arms/head with no cover of Health insurance while travelling abroad) I remember seeing this in ‘Home Alone Part-2, Lost in New York’ movie which describes NYC amazingly and I could point out and spot all the places on my trip. I lived through all of ‘How I met your mother’ and ‘Two Brooke girls’ series as I walked in Manhattan! The city is build on a grid which makes it quite easy to locate various stores, areas or anything else- you just need East or West location, an Avenue and a Street number! I worked my way around Manhattan alone reading it like a map along with help from GPS (though I did got lost a couple of times!)

Another beautiful place was the New York old sea port; perfect to laze around in sun. It has a collection of old ships converted into restrau and shopping malls! One can enjoy the beauty of Brooklyn bridge from here.  Seeing ships parked next to high rise buildings was something amazing!
How could I miss New York Stock exchange and not get clicked with ‘The Bull’. Walking on ‘Wall Street’ was amazing and even more amazing was having ‘pure Punjabi food’ there at one of the lunch places! No, I didn’t end up having only Punjabi food in NYC rather tried everything I could lay my hands on. A place to dine was called a DELI where we could pick n choose hot/cold food with a variety of options; weigh them and pay as per weight! Isn’t it a wonderful idea? You can try the variety without having to ask for a whole plate of it! Café Olympiad was our favorite one, being nearest to UN Plaza! And who can forget the famous Star Bucks which saved my life with the free wi-fi they offer at the café- that’s why and how I landed there for my first ever cup of Hazelnut with Vanilla!
I tried Japanese Sushi (Rice filled with sea weed in it as a wrap), Italian lentils and pesto (lentils and pasta soup), American Pizza (or Pitza!), Clementine juice (something like orange but completely different flavor), Pretzels (Oh how I loved Jalapeno flavor), Bagels (Sesame flavored with Peanut butter in it- American favorite breakfast) Mexican Chipotle (Rice-black beans-toppings) and Falafel. I also tickled my sweet bud a lot there (I am sure I have put on a few kilos!) with brownies, cup cakes, croissants and ofcourse chocolates! Pie face- an Australian chain offered the best ever chocolate fudge cake that I had tasted! Save me from greed!    
And the Most imposing visit on my mind was that of Statue of Liberty. Ms Liberty as it is called lovingly was made by French and the legend goes that the torch points towards France. But it is a symbol of USA, you just can’t miss it when you mention USA.  We could go up till the pedestal; going up till crown was booked till May! It stands on Ellis Island which can be reached by a Cruise from Battery park and is a beautiful location surrounded by the Hudson bay. You can also spot the New York skyline and Brooklyn bridge from there! It was the last day that I saw this wonder of the world!

Last but not the least, the UN plaza area which was my work station for the week (Yes, I had actually gone there for work!) It was a beautiful area which exuberates the union of various nationalities; people of all regions of the world. One could stand and spot various flags fluttering away near the entrance where the UN flag stands high above the rest! As I entered I could feel something different- I was inside the UN building after all!
You just can’t help notice how courteous people are to you all the time. Getting (decent) comments on roads and listening to thank you-sorry every second was a little different for me. An organized traffic sense and cleanliness was another thing which struck me (although NYC is considered as dirty and polluted as per US standards). At every turn, you find the US flag- perhaps it reminds them again and again the unity and feeling of a single nation since US origin has a mixture of cultures! India isn’t very different with each state with its own language and culture. I just wish we adopt the culture of courtesy and aesthetic sense from US- and No this is not a political agenda that I am talking about and I am very much Indian! As I return to Nalanda, I can’t help but wonder what a different world I have been to- as if I had landed into a Hollywood movie! The time zone has changed but I am still living in EST (badly jet lagged!) which is 10 and half hours behind ISD. And its 3:00 am now in India, and 5:30 pm in NYC; good evening New York!  And so I here is my Nalanda to New York and back!