Vizag Features

October 2005
29th October, 2005

GARUDA Bus service

The recent heavy rains in Vizag and consequential flooding of the Vizag airport have been a source of mirth to the idle observer with photos of people in boats/fishing on the runway and a helicopter underwater providing amusement. There were also jokes about seaplanes landing in Vizag airport. But for those who drowned (!!) in these waters, and for those travellers dependent on air services to Vizag, it has been anything but funny.

The disruption in air services has seen a spill-over of passengers to rail and reservations by train too have hard to get making travellers seek other forms of transport. I was one of them and having to travel to Hyderabad from Vizag, decided to try the road - provided I could get a Volvo bus that has come to signify comfort in road travel all over India.

But with 'Volvo Bus' fast becoming a generic term for any luxury bus or even for just a bus with curtains and air-conditioning, one has to be careful. Wanting the Real McCoy, I decided on APSRTC's (Andhra Pradesh State Road Transport Corporation, for those of you not familiar with local abbreviations) 'Garuda' bus service to Hyderabad ignoring the several private operators located opposite the RTC complex itself and offering similar services.

There are two departures in the evening - 7 pm and 8 pm. The ticket itself is fairly easy to procure and informative (platform number, seat number, departure time). It is cancellable at a loss of just Rs. 5/- up to two hours before the journey!

Despite the bus arriving about half an hour before the scheduled departure, it managed to depart about 15 minutes late. On the positive side, however, there is adequate place for stowage of luggage both in the luggage compartment and under/over the seats. They give you a bottle of mineral water and packet of potato chips - something I wasn't expecting on a government-run service. Reading lights, reclining seats and good air conditioning make it as comfortable as a bus ride can get.

Except for a dinner halt at Annavaram ('Ratnagiri Resorts' - quite good) and brief halts at Rajamundry, Vijayawada and Suryapet, I don't think there were any other halts (remember I had to sleep too!). The road itself is quite good and even over a rough patch close to Rajamundry, the ride quality was good enough to get a comfortable night's sleep. The movie they play for you might keep you up till about 11 pm but if you enjoy movies, you might think of it as an additional perk.

With less fuss than air travel (security, check-in one hour before, identify baggage etc) and the same travel time (12 hours) as rail, this is one travel option providing value for money at Rs. 555/- that Vizagites should be looking at more frequently - and not just when the airport resembles a seaport.

15th October, 2005

The trip from Vizag to Toronto sees me appreciating the changes for the better in India (immigration and customs in five minutes flat!) - something I would be doing more of in the days to come. 

The famous CN Tower - a landmark in Toronto
The famous CN Tower -
a landmark in Toronto

The weather in Toronto (as in most of Canada this time of year, I am told) is glorious. The cleanliness and the order is something that will take me time to get accustomed to.

Apart from the usual sights and sounds that are mandatory for tourists visiting Toronto, Day Two saw me queuing up for tickets at a theatre playing mostly Indian (read Hindi) movies in a predominantly Indian area, for the just released 'Mangal Pandey'. First day, first show - something I have never done in all my years in Vizag. It was interesting to listen to the various Indian accents both 'proper' and hybrid ones, of the mainly Indian movie-goers. One enterprising Indian (who else?) did brisk business outside the theatre selling, among other things, samosas and chai. Vizagite that I am, I balked at paying $3 for two of them but having done so, ate them with relish. It was a nice feeling connecting with the couple of hundred people in the movie hall through our love for India, or our love for all things Indian. At the very least, our love for Rani Mukherjee.

I put up with a family of solid Andhra stock and with Vizag connections as an added bonus who seem to have managed to acquire the perfect blend of all that is good in Andhras and the West. Had it not been for the weather and cleanliness, it was sometimes hard to imagine I was away from Vizag - the number of 'brown' faces all over is unbelievable: we seem to have taken over the place! I actually asked for help in a Walmart in Telugu! From 'Mike' who probably was Murthy or Muthyalu before being re-christened in Canada. Alas, desis will be desis. They can be as fragmented and clannish as they are back home: Punjabi Association, Goan Catholic Association, Telugu Brahmin Association - you get the idea? But, this not being my first visit to Canada or to western countries, I could also sense a new, palpable feeling of pride and confidence among the Indian diaspora in the homeland, its growing clout, its technological prowess, that was not existent during my earlier visits (some thing to do with the Sensex?) and below this, a sense of oneness. As one proud-to-be-Indian sardar taxi driver put it: "In m*#^%& goron ko dikhana chahiye ki Hindustan kya hai!".


With distance making the heart grow fonder, repeated scanning for 'news' of Vizag through the Internet showed how boring ('cyclist run over'), small minded and parochial the place can sometimes be. And how little seems to be changing ('VSP employees oppose privatization') despite the evident changes taking place. Still, it is mana patnam.

The participation of citizens in decisions that affect the city was something that amazed me. Signs on vacant plots inviting comment on and objections to proposed building plans was something that I wished for back home. Compare this with the lord-of-all IAS officers who are the decision makers in Vizag and who take arbitrary decisions cloaked in secrecy without any participation from residents. Vizagites need to take charge of their lives!

What Vizag needs: a Marina
What Vizag needs: a Marina
Future look of Visakhapatnam Municipal Corporation?
Future look of Visakhapatnam Municipal Corporation?
'Southside Shuffle': A streetside jazz festival.
'Southside Shuffle':
A streetside jazz festival.

When it comes to the English language, even Vizagites seem to have a better range of adjectives. To most Canadians (especially the younger lot) everything is just 'awesome'. Haven't they heard of 'Splendid'? 'Excellent'? 'Marvelous'? 'Wonderful'? I almost found myself willing to settle for 'Neat' 'Cool' and 'Great'. Isn't that awesome?

Hey we are not so backward after all! When it comes to mobile phones, we are way ahead. Virgin Mobile's 'Guess who's got a shiny new Nokia?' slogan is for an ancient model that no self-respecting Vizagite would be caught dead with. And I, for one, am never again going to complain about the cost of mobile phone calls in India. Having taken free incoming for granted, I considered it daylight robbery to have to pay for it here.

Thanks to cheaper travel, the Internet, decreasing cost of communication and rampant piracy, Indians here are clued on to just about everything happening back home. The latest Chiranjeevi movie? Seen it. But wasn't it released in Jagadamba just over a month ago? I was a little shamefaced when I didn't know who won the last ODI in Vizag but my host's teenage son did! 

The day before returning to Vizag, I saw some action. A fire alarm saw me scrambling to put on some clothes (it always happens then!) and rushing down the stairs from the 10th floor of the condominium I was staying in. The response time and efficiency of the fire brigade impressed me. Thankfully, it turned out to be a false alarm. But I couldn't help comparing it with a fire in Vizag not too long ago at a shop near Aseelmetta where the Vizag fire brigade is reported to have arrived a full half hour after the fire was reported - to find only cinders!

To conclude, an investment tip: invest in companies making hair colour - from Sarada of Srikakulam to Vani of Vijayawada, everyone here, it seems, wants to go blonde - or at least brunette.