Today, Travel

Hong Kong. Our Favourite City in This World. But Climbing up the Big Buddha?

My wife and I have travelled to Hong Kong several times, both for business and pleasure. We usually stay on the Kowloon side of the city. Over the years, we have made many friends in Hong Kong as well. We love everything this city has to offer, may it be eating street food, or walking down the busy Nathan Road or then shopping in one of the amazing malls they have or even hopping on a ferry and going over to Macau and spending time at some the most amazing hotels in the world.

The trip in March of 2015 was a little different. We decided to do some site seeing in Hong Kong. We had 3 days and wanted to make the most out of it. The concierge at our hotel recommended, we take the MTR (Subway Train) and go to Lantau Island. This is the same island, where the Hong Kong International Airport is located. The Lantau Island is the largest of all the Islands in and surrounding Hong Kong.

So, we took the MTR and got off at Tung Chung Station. From there, we took the Ngong Ping Cable Car. The cable car offers breath taking views of the island, ocean around it as well as the airport. The ride takes about 25 minutes and you reach the Po Lin Monastery. This monastery become popular when the Big Buddha was constructed in 1993. Its about 34 meters high and faces in the direction of Mainland China.

We reached the base of the Big Buddha. This is where the interesting part of this story begins. To reach the Big Buddha, you must climb stairs. There is no easier way to get up except for climbing the stairs. I don’t remember the exact number of steps, but they were closer to 300. I looked at my wife and asked her if we could just take a picture from the base and make our way back to Hong Kong. She wanted to climb up and visit the Big Buddha. So, we start climbing. In about 20 minutes, she was all the way, waving at me. I was huffing and puffing, trying to make my way up. I sat down after every few steps. I could see all the Chinese Pilgrims laughing at me, as they zoomed past me. It took me about an hour to get to the top. By the time, I reached the top, I was so exhausted, that I was in no mood for pictures. I sat in a quiet area and enjoyed the cool breeze. Once, I was able to catch my breath, I looked around and the Big Buddha was majestic. We took a lot of pictures.

We then started making our way back to the base, which was a lot easier, as we were going down the steps. When we reached mid-way, we say 10 – 15 locals running up the stairs to reach the Buddha. Of our curiosity, I asked one of the security guards as to why these people were running up the stairs (remember- I could barely make it up the steps). He told us there is a charity race to reach the top once a week. These people were part of the race. I did not have any further questions for the polite security guard, who gave us an equally polite smile. We made our way to the base and then back to the train station.

In the train, I told my wife, may be some day, I will run up to the Big Buddha as part of this charity race. What say?

 

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Today, Travel

285 lbs and Paragliding in Cape Town

Few years ago, my wife and I visited South Africa for the first time. We were in Cape Town and we fell in love with the city. We were in the city for about 5 days and had chalked out things to do each day.  Our visit to Cape Town came over New Years, so we also celebrated New Years Day in Cape Town that year.

We have some friends living in Cape Town. They were very helpful and showed us around quite a bit. We drove down to the Cape of Good Hope one day, and then one day we drove to Simon’s Town to see the Penguins. One day we rode the cable car up to Table Mountain and had a beach picnic in Camp’s Bay.

I have always wanted to sky dive, but I was never able to because I was overweight. Not just overweight, but so overweight that I was out of limit for a sky dive. The heaviest they permitted was 220 lbs and I was sitting at 285 lbs. While we were in Cape Town, we saw an ad for Paragliding. In fact, on the drive to Cape Town from George, we had seen people Para Gliding over the mountains, but we did not know Cape Town had Paragliding as well. We called the company and they had slots available for a flight next day. Yes, that’s what they call it- Flight!  We were to meet them at a check-in place at the foot of Lion’s Head. Lion’s head is a mountain that sits between Table Mountain and Signal Hill.  Lion’s Head peaks at 669 metres above sea level. The peak forms part of a dramatic backdrop to the city of Cape Town and is part of the Table Mountain National Park.

Next morning, we got ready and drove to Lion’s Head. Upon check-in, we were given two bottles of water. We were told to follow the ‘pilot’ who was our tandem instructor for the flight.  It was 7 in the morning and the sun was already very bright.  We started following the pilot. We were walking behind him for about 15 minutes, before we realized we had started hiking up the Lion’s Head Mountain. I was 285 lbs. I had not walked for 10 minutes for over 10 years. The last time I went to the gym must have been at least 12 years ago. In that 15-minute walk, I was already sweating bullets, huffing and puffing.  My wife was hiking up behind the pilot like she was a pro. Looking back at me and laughing occasionally. I finished both those bottles of water faster than ever. I kept making my way up the mountain, slowly and steadily. After about 45 minutes, I had to ask the pilot, how much more do we have to climb. He was like, we are almost there. We kept going and going. 2 hours later, we were on top of Lion Head. I could barely move but the cool breeze compensated for all the exhaustion caused by the 2-hour hike.

Lions Head Hike
Lions Head Hike

After reaching the top, we were sitting down signing waivers and then being suited in harnesses and helmets. We were given a quick instruction on what was going to take place during take off, a few pictures and then we were in flight as you can see in the video below. You can see how heavy I look. All in all, the experience was fantastic. We landed 4 minutes later in Camp’s Bay, where our friends were parked. They picked us up and we drove back to our hotel.

Now, that I am well below the 220 lbs mark, sky diving is next on my list. It will be one of the stories on this blog very soon.

 

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Dinner outside Seafood Restaurant
Today, Travel

Precision Body Transformation Process is on and I go to an All-Inclusive-Resort in the Dominican Republic.

My wife, son and I love the Caribbean and we make it a point to get down to the islands at least twice a year, if not more. Leaving aside a few of the smaller islands, we have been to all, some two or even three times. When we do to the islands, we never stay at All-Inclusive Resorts, because I find them very restrictive when it comes to visiting the island or the country per se. If I have already paid for all the food and booze in the resort, why would I want to go out of the resort and spend again? Another reason is that these all-inclusive resorts are usually in all the tourist trap areas, which is something we always avoid. We like to travel and experience the place like locals do. We like to rent a car and drive around the island. Stop at some secluded beach shack and have lunch. Buy some fruit from the locals, who usually sell them roadside. Visit secluded beaches and have a picnic there. That’s our idea of a Caribbean vacation.

Arrival Stamp into The Dominican Republic
Arrival Stamp into The Dominican Republic

Our last Caribbean trip was different. My wife wanted to go to an all-inclusive resort and do absolutely nothing. No driving, no sightseeing, no exploring the island but just be inside the resort and enjoy their pools, food and pampering. I went along with the idea and we planned a trip to the Dominican Republic. This was my 69th country on the bucket list. Little did we realize, that when going to an All-Inclusive Resort (AIR), your packing is also very different. You only need the basics. The resort provides everything to you. They pick you up at the airport and drop you back. No, car rentals, no maps, no GPS, not even any cash. We literally only took our Cell Phones, Clothes, Shoes, Passports, Nexus cards and our American Express card.

Bavaro Beach in Punta Cana, D.R.
Bavaro Beach in Punta Cana, D.R.

We reached Punta Cana around mid-afternoon. The resort picked us up and in twenty minutes we were inside this gorgeous resort sitting on the ink blue Caribbean Sea. While we checked-in, a glass of champagne was offered to us, which was followed by one more and then one more. That’s when it hit me, that this vacation is going to have a serious impact on my body transformation. I need to take it easy. I had carried my gym clothes and planned to hit the gym every morning. After check-in, we were escorted to our beautiful room, facing the ocean. The room had a terrace so big, that we could have a 15-20 people party there. It also had a big hot tub. We unpacked, freshened up and went for dinner. In an AIR, you must make dinner reservations for each night and my wife had made the reservations.

Ocean Front Terrace Room with a Jacuzzi
Ocean Front Terrace Room with a Jacuzzi

First night was an a la carte dinner at a French Restaurant. I looked at the menu and picked out all the healthy dishes I could find. Paired with a fine white wine, day one was out of the way. I survived the first meal. We had five more days to go. Breakfast and Lunches were at the different buffets. They had a lot of salads and grilled meats. That’s what I picked on day 2. I saw my wife bring over a plate full of dessert and that combined with wine, is when things went downhill very fast. I had a piece of the chocolate pastry. Then another piece and then another. I told myself, Vedant- you are on a vacation. Eat!  Over the next five days, I ate, and I drank and then I ate some more. The food and drink choices in an all-inclusive resort are way to tempting to resist. My resistance was overcome in24 hours. One thing I did stick to was my gym routine.  A bad day can be made better by going to the gym they say. This was also to wash away all the guilt from the various buffets and bars that were keeping us very busy. It worked to a certain extent but only for the guilt. I could feel my body pushing back. It was being shocked several times a day. I kept going. It was a vacation after all.

Bavaro Barcelo Resort in Punta Cana, D.R.
Bavaro Barcelo Resort in Punta Cana, D.R.

Finally, the five days were over. Our flight was in the evening and I decided to hit the gym one last time before we checked-out. Tried to lose some of the pounds I added over the past five days. After my workout, I met one of the personal trainers there. He asked me if I was enjoying my stay at the resort. I told him, that it was a lovely resort and a beautiful country. Only if I could control my eating and drinking, I would be a very happy man. His reply was just what I wanted to listen to. He said ‘You are on vacation man. A few cheat meals are not going to make you fat, just like a few clean meals are not going to make anyone lean. Go have that last drink before you hop on the flight back home.’  I went straight to the bar, had a drink and I felt better already.

We got back home later that night and within 48 hours, I was back on track with my body transformation process less the ink blue ocean!

 

Back at Home. Gym Time.
Back at Home. Gym Time.

 

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Thali India Pune
Today, Travel

Meal Portions? Here comes the Unlimited Thali

As you all know by now, I am very passionate about travel. By travel, I mean global travel. If you consider Overseas British, American, French and Indian Territories, then I have 72 stamps in my passport. My bucket list is 100 but I can easily see that going to 125. So, part of my travel routine, I go to India very often. We have an office in Pune, which is in the State of Maharashtra and I visit there about 4 times a year.

I was in Pune last month. While packing for this trip, I made sure that I packed all my meal requirements like Protein Bars, Muesli, Sparkling Water, Melba Crackers and Low-Calorie Salad Dressing. I also carried my coffee. I usually stay at the J.W. Marriott Hotel, where the staff knows me very well by now. The chef at their lobby restaurant helps me with all my dietary needs, may that be egg whites for breakfast or a house salad with grilled chicken or fish which they pack as a lunch take away. So, all in all, my trips to Pune are sorted as far as food is concerned.

This trip was a little different than usual as I had a few dinners planned with business colleagues. They usually pick the places and I simply show up. One such place I visited happened to be a popular Thali Restaurant. For those of you, who don’t know what a Thali is, let me explain. Thali or Thaali refers to a metal plate that a meal is to be served on. The idea behind a Thali is to offer all the 6 different flavors of sweet, salt, bitter, sour, astringent and spicy on one single plate. Technically the last two are forms of chemesthesis i.e. sensation to the skin, rather than true flavours. As per Indian food traditions, a meal should be a balance of all these 6 flavours. Thali’s usually consist of an all vegetarian option, but I have heard of non-vegetarian versions as well. Food served in a Thali vary from region to region within India and are usually served in small bowls, called katori. These ‘katoris’ are placed along the edge of the round metal thali. Typical dishes include Rice, Dal (lentils), Curried Vegetables, Roti (flat bread), Papad (round thin crackers made from black gram flour), Dahi (yogurt), small quantity of Chutney or Pickle, and a Dessert.  Rice or Roti is the usual main dish which occupies the central place on the Thali, while the side dishes are lined circularly along the round Thali. There are multiple versions of Vegetables and Dal on a Thali. So, that is a Thali. A thali is to be eaten by one person. So, if 6 friends go to a Thali Restaurant, each gets their own Thali. Another important thing about Thali’s is that you can also opt for an ‘all you can eat’ version, just like ‘all you an eat Sushi’ or ‘all you can eat wings’, options we see in North America. The restaurant we went to featured an All you can eat Thali.

We entered the restaurant and were seated at a nice table in a quieter section of the restaurant. All my colleagues ordered the popular Thali. The server then came to take my order and I told him, there was no way I could finish this Thali, so how about a small salad instead? He told me they don’t have a salad. I told him, you have a salad in your Thali, so if you could just give me the salad from that. He looked at me weird and before he could say his next sentence, I told him, I will pay for the Thali but I only want the salad. If you can make the salad ‘unlimited’, I will appreciate it. He has a smile on his face, took my order and left. My colleagues were obviously perplexed as well but I simply could not break my diet regime. They told me to make it a cheat day. I said that was an excellent idea and I called the server back and requested him to get me a glass of white wine. Salad and White Wine is what I had that evening.

My colleagues dropped me back to the hotel after dinner. First thing I did was open my laptop to check how many calories make up a Thali. From all the research I did, a thali is anywhere between 2000 and 3000 calories, while unlimited versions can be more than that. The general rule of the thumb, as far as daily calorie recommendation goes, is 1900 calories for women and 2100 calories for men. This certainly was not the only meal of the day today for my colleagues. I am glad to have cheated with a glass of wine, but some day, I will go back to this very restaurant and enjoy their Unlimited Thali. It looked delicious, but I simply could not justify the calories at this stage of my body transformation process. I have circled the salad I ate from the Thali in the picture below.

Thali India Pune

 

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Ostrich Farm
Today, Travel

My Visit to an Ostrich Farm

The first time my wife and I visited South Africa, we fell in love with the country. During our visit, we drove to a small town called Oudtshoorn, which is about five hours east of Cape Town. The town is world famous for its Ostrich Farms. We stayed at a B&B and ate at some of the local restaurants. This is the first time, I had an Ostrich Steak.
South Africa Entry Stamp

Next day, we drove the Cango Ostrich Farm, which is by far the largest and most popular of all Ostrich Farms in the area. We signed up for The Ostrich Tour. The tour goes in small groups with a professional guide and is an easy walk through the farm. During the tour, we saw Ostrich eggs, Incubators where the eggs hatch and we were also to see some chicks hatch out as we were at the farm during the right season. Next, we walked to an area, where they gave us a bucket of feed and we could feed the Ostrich Birds. While you are feeding the birds, you also get a neck massage. As you can see in the picture below, I am holding the bucket of feed and three birds are rubbing their necks against my shoulder, giving me a massage and at the same time eating feed out of the bucket.

After the feeding and massage session, we were taken to another area, where there were about 30 birds running around in an enclosure. This is where you can ride a bird, provided you are below 80 kgs (176 lbs). At the time, I was 282 lbs, so they did not allow me to ride the bird. However, as you can see in the picture above, my wife has no problem. She also rubbed it in, that because I am overweight, I would not ride the Ostrich.

After the bird ride, we were walking back to where the tour started. The tour guide came up to me and pointed at a small hut. He took me there.  Under the hut, there were a few real ostrich eggs. He told me to go stand on them. At first, I was a little reluctant; I mean, what if those eggs cracked?  Well, he said, given I was not allowed to ride an Ostrich, I can go and stand on the eggs for a picture. He assured me that they will not break. I went and stood on them as you can see in the picture above. Apparently, Ostrich eggs can withstand weights up to 300 lbs.

It was overall a great experience visiting an Ostrich Farm. However, I do want to go back and ride the Ostrich, now that I fit the weight limit criteria

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