Sunday, May 8, 2011

Arrival in Bangalore and onwards to Toranagallu – 3rd May 2011

I slept so soundly on the flight that the passenger on the adjacent seat was ‘polite’ enough to give me unsolicited feedback about my snoring as soon as I awoke upon hearing the Pilot announcing his intentions to land in Bangalore.  I suppressed my sarcastic repartee and started worrying about the quantum of duty I would have to pay for the TV and the harassment I would face from Customs.  I should not have worried.  I approached a Customs Officer on duty and identified myself as a ‘superannuated’ government officer.  I was taken in by the politeness and the speed with which I was ‘cleared’.  While paying the minimum duty I ‘forgot’ to pick up my entitled duty free booze.  I had mentally marked to pick up a couple of bottles of Lagavulin.  An opportunity lost but money saved!!
Emirates had the chauffer driven car drop me at my friend’s place, where I freshened up.  I left soon, against saner advice, so as to attend office. However, my purpose was defeated as I almost drove into medians and off the road a few times due to jet lag.  I felt so sleepy at one stage that I decided to park in a fuel station and sleep a while.  When I woke up an hour later I was ravenous.  Fortunately, I soon discovered a Kamat restaurant and ate as if I had been fasting the previous 48 hours.  I took to the road without haste for I knew that I would not be able to attend office.  When I passed through the gates of the JSW township I thanked Him for the wonderful trip and for bringing me back safe and sound.
Finaly, a few Swahili words of everyday use for you: Lipa – Pay, Kwanza – first, Dawa – medicine, Duka – shop, Safari – travel, Hatari – danger, Njema – safe, Kinyozi – barber shop, Nyama – beef, Vali – rice, Mahindi – maize, Yai – egg, Mkate – bread, Gari – car, Dereva – driver, Barabara – road, Mke – wife, Mti – tree, Nyota – star, Moja – one, Mbili – two, Tatu – three, Simu – mobile, Basceli – bicycle, Choo– toilet.
So friends, Karibu Tena – Welcome Again.  I hope to do a more ‘organised’ trip to Tanzania, sooner rather than later.

Dubai to Bangalore – 2nd May 2011

I was free the whole day to explore the newer delights of the city.  That meant only one place –the Burj Khalifa, the tallest man made structure in the world today.  Quite interestingly, none of my friends I met in Dubai had been to the giant building that looked from afar like a taller Petronas Towers of Kuala Lumpur rooted on a single limb.  I got a drop to the Dubai Mall complex that stands at the foot of the giant tower.  The complex around the Burj Khalifa is awe inspiring.  The Dubai Mall, The Address, etc are classic styles in architecture and landscaping.  The Dubai Mall is a city in itself.
Walking into the Dubai Mall you feel dwarfed by the giant ceilinged structure and the experience.  Fashion houses and swanky stores ensure that the Mall has everything that good money can buy; it has everything you could desire, it has thrill, magic, romance and movies.  The Dubai Mall is the world's largest shopping mall going by the area and sixth largest by leasable area. It is part of the 20-billion-dollar Burj Khalifa complex and includes 1,200 shops.  The Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo in the Dubai Mall has been acknowledged as the single largest acrylic in the world – it holds one of the largest tanks in the world at 51m x 20m x 11m and featuring the world’s largest viewing panel at 32.8m wide and 8.3m high. It holds 10 million litres of water and has more than 33,000 living animals including over 400 sharks and rays.  Dubai Aquarium's 270-degree acrylic walkthrough tunnel makes for incredible close-encounter experiences with some of the most fascinating underwater animals on the planet. A special 'lunar-cyclic' lighting system changes the ambience of the tank depending on the time of day.
The Dubai ice rink is another fascination in the Dubai Mall.   It is a multi-purpose venue which uses refrigeration plant technology – this ensures that the consistency of the ice-bed is maintained at all times - and has developed an Olympic-sized attraction. The Ice Rink has a capacity of seating 2000 guests with world class multimedia facilities including a giant LED screen.  This top class facility offers the best to train future generation of ice skating champs for which over 1,800 pairs of skates have been imported to fit children and adults of all ages and sizes.

Burj Khalifa was known as Burj Dubai prior to its inauguration.  At 828 metres, it is currently the tallest man made structure in the world.  Construction lasted over five years and the building officially opened on 4 January 2010 and is part of the 490-acre flagship development called Downtown Dubai.  The cost of the project has been given out as $1.5 billion.  The project's completion coincided with the global recession and Dubai was almost subsumed by its debt from ambitious projects and the Dubai government sought multibillion dollar bailouts from Abu Dhabi. At the opening ceremony, the tower was renamed Burj Khalifa. 
I was disappointed that I could not make a trip up the Burj Khalifa.  While a previous day booking costs 100 Dhs same day entrance costs 400 Dhs.  I did not perceive the experience to be of such premium value.  Hence, after drinking in the sights from the outside I set out to explore the Metro.  I bought a NoL (Road Transport Authority) card for 20 Dhs and was told that I could perform RTA bus and rail journeys for 14 Dhs, after which I could recharge the card.  I found the Metro very popular with commuters, visitors and shoppers.  The Metro links the happening places of Dubai and has good interfaces with RTA bus routes to link the rest.  This is the cheapest way to travel around in Dubai and is efficient too.
With the heat was getting to me a bit I had to get to the Hotel to cool off before setting off for the airport.  I went to the Panasonic showroom at the Fish roundabout and picked up the 42” TV which was on offer with a Blue Ray DVD.  With the packaging I was a bit shaky as to whether the Airline would permit it as check-in baggage.  The next stop was the Carrefour store in the Diera City Centre.  A couple of hours and many $ spends later I reached the Hotel and flopped, completely exhausted by the heat.  The Airline arranged pick up for the airport and I was assured by Nancy, the Emirates customer service agent at the airport, that the TV would pass muster as check-in baggage.  The first hurdle crossed I engaged two baggage clerks to take my baggage to the check-in counter.  The lady at the counter, with extreme politeness, told me that I have 19 kgs of excess baggage for which I would have to pay 1080 Dhs.  The baggage clerks cleverly pulled out a bag from among those I had planned to check in and said that two pieces of hand baggage are permitted in Business Class.  With one bag taken out I did not have to pay for excess baggage and only due to the alacrity of the baggage clerks.  I showed my appreciation of the timely assistance with a handsome tip.  All anticipated hurdles crossed it was time to it the lounge with a vengeance.  The food in the lounge was excellent and the drinks plentiful.  I helped myself to both in sufficient quantity and told the flight attendant on board not to disturb me till the aircraft lands in Bangalore.  I avoided all the in-flight hospitality and slept soundly on the flight.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

In Dubai – 1st May 2011

Normally an early riser, the late night kept me in bed till 8 am.  The hotel has an interesting arrangement for breakfast.  The voucher for breakfast at the hotel reception costs only 40 Dhs against the 50 Dhs charged in the restaurant.  The spread was mouth-watering but the mouth could not take as much as it should have.  The waiters were mostly youngsters from Kannur.
After breakfast I decided to catch up with a few friends in Dubai and had to travel to Jebel Ali Free Zone.  The route to Jebel Ali was not as crowded as it used to be in the past when I made trips to Jebel Ali during my days with DP World.  Nostalgia welled up.  It was once said that the National Bird of Dubai is ‘Crane’ for Dubai used to deploy the most number of cranes per sq km during the boom time.  With recession having taken its toll and projects having been scaled down the roads and work sites seemed free and empty.  The commissioning of the Metro must have also added to weaning traffic off the roads, which is indeed remarkable.
After meeting up with friends I decided to scout for an appropriate TV to buy.  I was given to understand that certain brands cost half of what it does in India.  Even factoring in the duty it makes sense to cart one home from Dubai.   I had set my mind on a Sony and visited Sharaf DG in Festival City to buy one.  Once I walked into the TV section of the showroom I was totally lost and confused.  Every brand had its own merits and some of them came with bundled freebies.  Despite the vast selection I decided to go with the Sony.  The youngster handling customers in the TV section brightly told me that they would deliver and install the TV in two days.  When I said I have a flight to catch the next day he told me that I would not be able to get the model of Sony I had zeroed in on anywhere in Dubai within 48 hours.  So my challenge was to like one that could be bought to accompany me on the flight to Bangalore in the next 24 hours.  The next choice was an LG – again out of stock.  Then I settled for a Panasonic 42” that would give me a Blue Ray DVD free with it for 2499 Dhs.  While it was out of stock in Sharaf DG I was told that the Panasonic showroom near the Fish Roundabout would be able to service my requirement.  Thus, having finalized the TV to be bought I went to the IKEA showroom to scout for anything interesting for the new flat in Cochin.  I picked up some and was ready to leave when Binu (Mathew Zacharia) arrived at the store to pick me up.  Binu is Chitra’s brother, about who I had written in my blog of 2nd October 2010.  Binu and I grew up together as neighbors for many years. We were the smart kids on the block during our times and have had our share of fun under the sun including many hours of ‘gulley’ cricket.  Binu is a top executive with the Kanoo group in Dubai and we share a lot in common, much of which I would not like to commit to a blog.  Suffice to say that I enjoy his company and that of Meena, Binu’s wife, who is the quintessential teacher that loves to be engaged in the development of the GenNext.  Binu is passionate about movies, cricket and football – he continues a family tradition.  He has downloaded nearly 450 movies in Blue Ray format from many sites and stored them on a 1 TB external hard disk.  The clarity of the playback is awesome.  I have requested him to copy the same for me too.  Even if I am not able to delight in viewing all of them the thought of having the collection is in itself a delight.  After a few pleasant hours in their company I insisted on taking a Metro ride back to the Hotel.
When the Metro was in the planning stage and later on when it was being built I got to see many artists’ impressions of the stations.  They were to have rivaled the Moscow Metro in grandeur.  The recession seems to have scaled back the grandeur for the Metro is very functionally designed and maintained.As in the West and in the Far East, the Metro is easy to use in Dubai and well mapped out for the debutant.

Dar-es-Salaam to Dubai – 30th April 2011

Having fallen behind on the updation of the blog I spent the whole morning translating the aide memoire into readable format.  In the meanwhile, I also got confirmation of my flight to Dubai.  The timing of the flight is such that one could not have utilised any part of the day more productively than what I had planned to do.  While waiting for Irfan and Omar to join me I scrolled some of the tourist attractions in Dar on the web and came across the mention of Mwenge carvers and tinga-tinga paintings. The description was such that I wished to see the art, if not buy some if affordable, if time permitted. As soon as Irfan and Omar came in I asked if it would be possible to visit the places where I could appreciate the carvings and the paintings. Omar, as is his wont, immediately jumped up and said, “Let’s go.”  He assured Irfan and me that we had enough time to visit the places, have lunch, come back to the hotel to check out and be in time for the flight at the airport.  It took time to get a taxi, despite it being a Saturday. The roads are relatively free during the weekends. However, after a while we got stuck in serpentine queues and traffic jams. Omar’s incredible knowledge of the lanes and bylanes and the taxi driver’s skill saved the moment.  We reached a small market place where the carvings and paintings are arranged in numerous shops.  Handicraft and wood carvings are some of the major attractions of Tanzania's tourism industry. The Makonde community who originally hail from the southern part of Tanzania is among those that have made it possible to showcase the carvings. Handcrafts and carvings are sold in some other places in the country but Makonde Village Market in Mwenge Dar es Salaam is supposed to be the best among all.The Makonde village market does a lot besides just the art of selling, final touches on carvings like decorating, smoothing and polishing work are done at the village market yard. The art work comes from places like Mtwara, Bagamoyo, Chanika and Kimanzichana. The carvings are incredible. The exquisite art in ebony made me spend more time than I would have otherwise.  I have heard that ebony is the most difficult wood to work on because it is the hardest wood of all. That makes the carvings all the more valuable.  The detail and the translation of skill to wood were awesome.  I wanted to buy all I could lay my hands on. But, ebony is heavy and I picked up just two pairs of wall hangings.  Bargaining is heavy. I paid Tshs 50,000 against the 75,000 asked for.  With some more time I may have been able to bring the price down some more. But then, art is art and the money paid goes to sustain the artists.
The tinga-tinga paintings are named after the person who started the ‘trend/school of painting’.  Edward Tingatinga began painting in Tanzania around 1968. He employed low cost materials such as masonite and bicycle paint and almost immediately attracted the attention of tourists. The paintings of African life are colorful, childlike and almost surreal. When Tingatinga died in 1972 his style had become so popular that it had started a wide movement of imitators and followers. Due to paucity of time I could not sample many and hence left the purchase for the next visit!!
I thanked my lucky stars that I left the Mwenge market tearing way from the lure of the tingatinga paintings.  The traffic jam had become worse.  Again a combination of Omar’s knowledge of the bylanes and the driver’s skill behind the wheel took us to the hotel in good time. Lunch was forgotten. I checked out in good time, but not before learning that they do not accept USD currency of vintage prior to 2001 in Tanzania.  The traffic to the airport seemed to get worse every 100 meters.  I started mentally preparing to stay another day in Dar.  At a couple of junctions we could not move for over 20 minutes. Omar assured me that it could be worse!  He confirmed from the Emirates counter at the airport that the counter will be open till a half hour before departure.  Sweat and exasperation all the way.  I finally made it to the airport with 45 minutes to spare for the flight.  I did not have much time to thank Omar and Irfan for making my stay in Tanzania memorable.
I checked in and was given a lounge card.  I hogged all I could in the airport lounge for I was famished and had expended a lot of anxious energy in the humungous traffic jam to the airport.  Accompanying the shorts eats and the single malt (!) was the traditional Tanzanian smile and graciousness. I boarded the flight to Dubai hoping that I will be able to come back to Tanzania for an elaborate tour of the tourist spots.  The friendliness and the smiles of the Tanzanian people remained etched in my mind long after the visit was over.
I spent the time of the flight watching two movies, Guzzarish and Pokkiri Raja.  I enjoyed the poignant Hindi movie with a power packed performance by HritikRoshan.  The latter was a slap stick Malayalam flick that had some laughs but was mostly forgettable. I did not have a visa for the stay in Dubai.  Hence, I had to check into a hotel to obtain a transit visa.  The process seemed to take forever, especially since I was extremely tired from the flight.  Finally, I checked into the Floris Grand at 3.30 am!  However, the counter at the airport had got me a good deal at the hotel - $257n for two days plus visa.  I did not wait to change clothes; saw the bed and hit it hard.

In Dar – 29th April 2011

Breakfast at the Tanzanite Hotel is an unvarying fare. And so is the smiling service.  The hotel does not have a regular restaurant. But they manage to rustle up breakfast every morning, which consists of cornflakes, cold milk, doughnuts, bread, apples, fruit juice, coffee and eggs in any form that you would want them as long as your order is omlette!! Normally I have four slices of white bread toast, butter and marmalade with a double egg omlette. This morning was no different.
Omar was in attendance immediately after breakfast.  Having worked in the Port sector for five years I wished to visit the DAR port.  Irfan and Omar managed to get appointments with the Container Terminal Manager and the Port Operations Manager.  The Ports of Dar, Tanga and Mtwara, along with the river ports, come under the Tanzania Ports Authority.  Tanga is a lighterage port and Mtwara is a seasonal port, which assumes a lot of importance during the cashew season.  Cashew is grown near the Mozambique border area of Tanzania andis better served by Mtwara port, from where cashew containers used to be received in Cochin during the season.  With the possible exploitation of minerals and ore in the southern part of Tanzania, bordering Malawi and Congo, I feel that the Mtwara port will assume a lot of importance in the years to come.  There is no rail connectivity to Mtwara; the road connectivity also leaves a lot to be desired.
The Dar port is in the ‘centre of the city’, so to speak.  The presence of Omar ensured that we go in to the Port without any entrance pass. The Dar port dates back to 1867 and presently has 11 berths and an oil jetty over 2600 metres of quay length.  Berths 8 to 11 are operated by Hutchinson on a 25 year concession agreement with the TPA.  330,000 TEUs are handled by Hutchinson.  The CA was amended in 2008 to exclude the non-compete clause as Hutchinson was unable to handle additional volumes due to lack of additional ground slots.  The non-availability of CFSs in and around the Port has increased dwell time of imports in the Port.  The overall dwell time is in excess of 15 days.  Presently, the TPA uses two of its seven general cargo berths for handling container vessels with an annual throughput of 80,000 TEUs. The general cargo berths handle foodgrains, fertilizer and ro-ro vessels.  Additional investments are underway to augment the container handling capacity of the Port.  The Port administration is very receptive to ideas for business and process changes.  The new wagons imported by TAZARA for transportation of containers were at the Port.  The Port handles traffic of TAZARA and TRC on two different gauges.
While I was in the Port it rained heavily and humidity increased.  From the Port I walked with Omar to the St Joseph’s cathedral.  I was drenched in sweat and the shirt clung to an out of shape ‘single pack’.  On the way are the terminals that operate ferries and speedboats to Zanzibar.  I wished I could go.  But there is no time now; perhaps on the next visit.  The St Joseph’s Cathedral was built between 1897 and 1902.  It is one of the oldest in DAR.  The adoration chapel was full of devotees.  The next halt was at the Kilmanjaro Kempinski Hotel to get a first hand update of the Tanzanite stone.  The stone is only mined from an exclusive area called Mererani near the foothills of the Kilimanjaro.  The color of the stone ranges from deep blue (AAA grading) to light blue (B grading).  The exclusivity and the limited area keep the price of the stone high – a one carat stone is sold for as high as $850.  The high rate and the non-availability of smaller stones kept me away from closing a deal for a ‘take away’.
Lunch was at the Chef’s Corner, not very far from the Tanzanite Hotel.  The restaurant had turned on the sound of the TV to ‘announce’ the Royal Wedding.  I thought I ordered a chicken dish, but what landed up was a fish fry!!  However, I enjoyed the meal with a couple of chappatis and chips.  A visit in the evening to the Kariakoo market was an experience.  This is reputedly the cheapest market in Tanzania.  Goods from China are available at bargain prices.  Bags, clothes, belts, shoes, hankies, jeans, undergarments, and such like are vended on the streets.  You name it and it is there. The place can be overwhelming for the number of people that throng the streets.  Lack of proper lighting is a challenge and the condition of the roads is bad.  It is best to be careful about your belongings as the surging crowds could relieve you of many of your valuables. It is also a market for Mitumbe – second hand goods (literally, ‘dead man’s clothing’).  I bought a few DVDs of African music as souvenir. 
Dinner was at Mamboz – an eatery down the place from where I stay.  Akhtar, the owner, is a third generation Gujarati businessman in DAR.  He told me of the generous tips to the Police and Civil authorities that are required to keep his business going using the pavements.  The sheek kebabs, misihikaki (BBQ) and the tandoori chicken were yummy and filling.  I was tempted to sample a fish fillet served to the adjacent table.  Akhtar told me that the fish is found only in the waters of Lake Victoria.

In Dar – 28th April 2011

When the car stopped I woke up and enquired of the ‘battered’ Steve where we were.  It was around 5 am and the commuting public could be seen even at that hour.  Most schools and offices start business at 7.30 am, I understand.  We were about 20 kms short of the Tanzanite Hotel.  Then we hit the most incredible traffic jam I have encountered in my life.  It took us over 3 hours to travel the 20 kms and get to the hotel. I did not have anything much lined up for the day and hence asked Irfan if I could meet with the Managing Director of Tazara Railways.  I was keen to know how Railways are organized in Tanzania and get a larger picture of the African Rail system, if possible.  The resourceful young man got me an appointment for the afternoon, till when I relaxed in the Hotel.
I had a most interesting meeting with Mr. Lewnika, the MD of Tazara in his office.  And I learnt the following from him.
Tanzania has two railway systems – the Tanzanian Railway Corporation (TRC) and the Tanzania Zambia Railway Authority (Tazara). The Tazara railway line was built to give landlocked Zambia a link to the port of Dar, as an alternative to its export rail routes via erstwhile Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, South Africa and Mozambique.  The rail link was a project financed and executed by China costing about $500 million, making it the largest foreign-aid project undertaken by China at the time.  The railway was originally envisioned in the 1930s and till the 60s the project was considered economically unviable and floundered for funding.  Strategically, with the West shutting off all funding avenues to the project, the leaders of the newly independent States of Tanzania and Zambia turned to China and secured their financial and physical commitment to the terrain challenged project.
Tazara railway spans 1,860 km from Dar es Salaam in Tanzania to Kapiri Mposhi in Zambia.  The railway is often regarded as one of the greatest engineering feats of its kind. The railway took only five years to build and was finished ahead of schedule in 1975. It is said that before the construction actually began 12 Chinese surveyors travelled for nine months on foot from Dar es Salaam to Mbeya to fix the alignment of the railway line. Thereafter, about 50,000 Tanzanians and 25,000 Chinese were engaged to construct the historical railway.  The Chinese labor was rumored to have been convict labor.  Braving the challenging environment and natural elements the workers successfully laid the track through some of Africa's most rugged landscape. The work involved moving 330,000 tonnes of steel rail and the construction of 300 bridges, 23 tunnels and 147 stations. The bridge across the Mpanga River towers 160 feet and the Irangi tunnel is more than two kms long. Construction of the Mlimba (the Kingdom of Elephants) to Makambako (the Place of Bulls) section was considered to be the most difficult along the route, crossing mountains and steep valleys.  The railway passes between the Mikumi NP and the Selous Game Reserve.  Hence, travelers on this railway get the opportunity to see the rich wildlife of Selous, which with time have got used to the rumbling noise of the train. From Mbeya town, the railway heads northwestwards and crosses into Zambia at Tunduma.
The gauge of the railway was kept at 1067 mm to match that in the Zambian Railways that are connected to Zimbabwe and South Africa.  Thus, Tazara is a point of access to the railway systems of Central and Southern Africa. Tazara has never been profitable and more recently it has suffered from competition from road transport and the re-orientation of Zambia's economic links towards South Africa after the end of apartheid. A Tanzanian newspaper described the railway's condition in late 2008 as being "on the verge of collapse due to financial crisis".  It is understood that the Chinese government stepped in with some much needed assistance to the financially crippled Tanzania-Zambia Railways Authority to revive its operations.
Tazara is connected to the TRC, which has a gauge of 1000 mm, at the transshipment station of Kidatu and inside the Dar Port.  The Tanzania Railways Corporation (TRC) is state owned and operates a railway network that was once part of the East African Railways Corporation (EARC) operating in Kenya, Uganda and the erstwhile Tanganyika.  TRC spans about 2,600 km.
In 2007 RITES of India won a contract to operate passenger and freight services on a concession basis for 25 years. The concession agreement did not take off for various reasons and the government terminated the contract and resumed control in 2010.
It was fascinating to get the story of the Railways from Mr Lewnika.  Later we met over dinner at the swanky ‘Sea Cliff’ Hotel with the Indian Ocean on one side for company.  Mr Lewnika had held various positions in the private and public sectors in Zambia, even being a Cabinet Minister, prior to being given charge of the Tazara.  He mentioned that his father, who was a founder member of the Northern Rhodesia Freedom Movement, had travelled to India in 1950 and visited Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai.  He had met with Pandit Nehru and Indira Gandhi during his trip.  Mr Lewnika expressed a deep desire to trace the journey of his father to and in India.

Mbeya to Dar – 27th April 2011

Irfan and Omar were to make a few business calls after breakfast.  I tagged along to further appreciate the countryside.  The landscape is pristine and the air absolutely cool and clean.  I was so taken in by the surroundings that I absent mindedly took off the seat belt, lowered the window and started clicking away as if there would be no tomorrow.  This went on for a while till we were once again waved down by traffic cops.  As soon as we stopped a cop came near me and told the driver, Steve, that I was not wearing the seatbelt.  I tried to explain that as a tourist I was clicking away and had inadvertently taken off the belt.  The cop would have none of it.  Negotiations began almost immediately.  Finally, the fine was reduced to Tshs 2000.  The cops send us on our way with a smile and the greeting ‘Safari njema’ (Safe journey).
While Irfan and Omar made their business calls I chatted up the taciturn Steve.  I wanted to appreciate the ‘Bantu’ tribes people in their original environment.  Very reluctantly he pointed out a few people, who were on their way to work, and asked me to observe their short stature, darker complexion, thick lips and short curly hair.  This southern part of Tanzania is rich in natural deposits of coal, copper, iron and manganese ores and gold.  On the way back to Mbeya I requested to be taken to a railway station to appreciate the facilities.  Irfan and Omar took me to two.  We went first to the Mbeya railway station, which is a major transit point on the Tazara Railway line which links Tanzania and Zambia.  The gauge is slightly over a metre – 1067mm to be precise.  The fact that little investment is being done on the railway system is amply evident from the condition of the railway wagons and locomotives.  Uyole railway station is just a few kms away from Mbeya.  The station is not functional now.  The loop lines have been spiked and the signaling and communication systems are defunct.  When we were at the stations we saw many children returning home from school.  When I asked some of them for a photograph many of them ran away.  It took Omar’s vernacular skills to get them to come together for a photograph.
Instead of staying another night at Mbeya we decided to drive back to Dar.  This meant that we would have to drive through night, Steve willing.  He agreed to it and Irfan said that he would take over at the wheel if Steve felt tired.  We had ahead of us 14 hours of travel to get back to Dar.  Before checking out from the Mbeya Hotel Omar took me on a walk through the city centre and pointed out Bantus, Pygmies, Somalis, Masais and mixed tribespeople.  Irrespective of the tribes the Tanzanian geniality could be seen everywhere.
It was pitch dark when we entered the road through Mikumi NP.  I kept my eyes peeled for wildlife.  I was not disappointed.  A ‘tall’ giraffe darted across the road at speed and we almost ran into an angry elephant. Memorable moments.  All along the way eateries were open to serve the fairly heavy cargo vehicle movement.  We stopped at one such place and had a quick bite, which helped Steve to relax and stretch his legs a bit.  We could make out that he was tiring.  I offered to drive but Steve wouldn’t hear of it.  We resumed the journey and I promptly dozed off.

Dar to Mbeya – 26th April 2011

Since Irfan and Omar were going on a business trip to Mbeya I decided to tag along to see a countryside that is normally not on a tourist’s radar.  We left Dar es Salaam (Dar) at around 8 am.  Irfan told me that hiring a car in Tanzania is a costly affair.  For the two day trip that we were embarking on we could be spending up to $35000!!  The driver of the car that Irfan hired for the trip, Steve, is a boxer. His biceps could make Salman and Co feel like ill fed kids.  Immediately as the journey began, Steve stopped to buy a fire extinguisher and the attention triangle.  I was told that the Police are quite tough on the non-availability of safety items on the vehicles.  Nice to know that such traffic requirements are ‘in vogue’!  Talking about the Police, it did not take long to be waved down by a batch of traffic policemen.  On the hand held radar the speed of the car was registered as 64 kmph against the permissible 50 kmph on the highway!! The normal fine for traffic infringement is Tshs 20,000.  A suitable compromise was struck after a combination of tough talking, groveling and invoking the names of the people in high places.  We got away with a fine of Tshs 5000.  The police officer wrote out three copies of the booking record as he did not have carbons.  More than the money spent it is the time that was a matter of concern for we had ahead of us more than 800 kms to go.  Adding to the delays en route was the strict application of traffic rules by Steve behind the wheel.  He refused to overtake unless the visibility was clear and even when the driver in front permitted him to.  It was exasperating at times.  We had to pay one more compromised fine of Tshs 3000 for not having a safety sticker on the windshield.  As it is, the front windshield was full of statutory stickers.  An additional windshield may be in order to comply with all the regulations.  With the stoppages and the exasperating driving techniques of Steve we were well short of the intended destination for lunch.  However, I gave me a wonderful opportunity to take in the landscape and understand Tanzanian way of life a bit better.
In Dar city ladies can be seen moving about their chores wearing brightly colored head dress, called Kilemba in Swahili.  But exposure to the western life styles has introduced modern hair braiding which is meant to be flaunted rather than be concealed beneath a Kilemba.  One of the common sights in Dar is the amount of commerce that happens at road blocks and traffic intersections.  Vendors with Chinese made cheap items, food and fruits do brisk business.  From one of the vendors Omar asked for ‘gazetee’, a newspaper.  He got me an English newspaper, ‘The Guardian’.  The newspapers are full of the 47th Union Anniversary, a Union that is not without its problems.  The perceived neglect of certain regions of the Union of Tanzania and regional aspirations contribute to the fissiparous tendency.
The road from Dar to Mbeya was mostly a two lane road, but certain portions had three lanes and almost all through there were service niches that could be used for overtaking or temporary parking.  Advertisements along the way suggested that the mobile data cards are cheaper in Tanzania than it is in India.  On arrival in Dar Irfan had got me an Airtel prepaid connection.  While SMS costs slightly over Rs.3 per message the international calls are cheaper – I was told that Tshs 10,000 (equivalent of Rs. 300) could get you a half hour call to India.  In the suburbs of Dar one could see a few Bajaj autos.  However, here again the Chinese have gone a step further.  They have marketed auto-like dump trucks that operate hydraulically.  They are a big hit for marketing farm products.  The prices of diesel and petrol are the same with minor regional variations – a litre costs between Tshs 1950 to 2150 (between Rs. 60 and 65).  All fuel is imported into the country by private companies, who operate fuel stations too.  Most of the fuel is transported over land routes in humongous trucks specially manufactured for the purpose. The majority of cargo vehicles on the road are from Scania and heavy duty too.  There is substantial movement of containers on the Tanzania-Zambia highway moving to the port of Dar.  One fact must be highlighted here.  The drivers are extremely conscious of traffic regulations and safety.  They are ‘well behaved’ in the sense that rash and negligent driving is not something that you see on the highway, which makes driving less stressful (cannot say the same in Dar, though).
The countryside is dotted by mango trees, paddy fields and unorganized farming of tomatoes, potatoes, sunflower, sweet potatoes, cabbage, passion fruit and other fresh fruits and vegetables grown organically.  The road side sale is brisk.  A bucket full of tomatoes weighing about 20 kilos is sold for less than Rs. 50.  The abundant fertile lands call for organized farming with upstream and downstream industries to produce good seeds for the farmers and process the produce after harvest.  The 40 million Tanzanians can be induced into entrepreneurship, farming and marketing.  Despite the presence of large lakes and water bodies and more than abundant rainfall irrigation is largely absent.  There is a crying need to ‘stitch together’ a network of canals and bunds so as to bring the fertile lands to life.  Power supply is another problem area for Tanzania.  The country produces less than 1400 MW of which nearly 600 MW is produced using gensets.  The availability of large deposits of coal has not been exploited till date.  There is scope to enhance hydel generation, which also is lagging behind its potential.  The government needs to act expeditiously on these issues so as to leverage the benefits of natural wealth for its citizens.  As one drives through the rural landscape one cannot but appreciate the clean villages.  You will not find garbage and muck thrown about.  Even in the rural areas there seemed to be good civic sensibility amongst the citizens and an efficient collection and disposal system.
Omar turned out to an eager teacher.  I picked up a few words of Swahili, which has more than a smattering of Hindi in it.  One can appreciate it from words like Duka (shop), Dawa (medicine), Safari (travel), etc.  The blue skies against the Uluguru Mountain gave me a lot of photo ops.  The route from Dar to Mbeya passes through the Mikumi National Park for 50 kms.  ‘Hatari’ has remained one of my favorite movies.  This day I realized the meaning of the word after nearly 40 years of seeing the movie – at the entrance to the NP was the word ‘Hatari’ painted in bold letters, meaning ‘Danger’.  The NP, established in 1964, covers an area over 3200 square kms and is the fourth largest NP in Tanzania. The landscape of Mikumi is often compared to that of the Serengeti. The road that crosses the park divides it into two areas with partially distinct environments - alluvial plains and imposing rock formations of the Rubeho and Uluguru mountains.  The fauna in the NP includes many species characteristic of the African savannah. The park contains a subspecies of giraffe that biologists consider the link between the Masai giraffe and the Somali giraffe. The 50 km drive gave me an opportunity to appreciate elephants, giraffes, zebras, gnu, black antelope, baboons, wildebeests and buffaloes.  The small Museum at the entrance to the NP has skeletal exhibits of elephant, hippo, buffalo and antelope.  The road traffic that passes through the NP is fairly high.  Hence, it is not uncommon for wild life to be run over and killed by passing vehicles.  Photographs of such ‘accidental’ deaths are on display in the Museum.  The Mikumi NP is not normally on the map of international tourists to Tanzania and therefore, is better protected from the environmental point of view.  We had lunch at the NP, with Omar obtaining special permission to enter the NP.  I utilised the chance to observe and commit to camera baboons, birds and elephants.  Accommodation at the NP is frightfully expensive - $165 per night.
A hand raised in greeting, a warm ‘Karibu’ on their lips and an ever smiling face is what describes Tanzania for me.  The Tanzanians mean their ‘Karibu’ (Welcome).  Wherever you go in Tanzania you feel welcome and never threatened.  It makes Tanzania all the more attractive for foreign tourists.  After more than an hour over lunch in the Mikumi NP we resumed our journey to Mbeya.  We reached there after 9 pm, after more stoppages to buy tomatoes and passion fruit.  I was told that Mbeya would be cold.  I did not have proper winter clothing.  But the air was just a wee bit nippy and I weathered it.  We were booked into the Mbeya Hotel, in the city centre.  It is a railway property that has now passed into private management.  It is a no frills accommodation.  The rooms are adequate but the water in the tap was not the color of normal water!  Omar ordered ‘Ugali’ and chicken tikka masala for me.  Ugali is a steamed powdered maize preparation.  It is very heavy but easy on the digestion.  I fell in love with it.  The combination with the chicken curry, which had a strong taste of tomato, was fantastic.

12 June - Whistler to Victoria - Day 39 of TCE

The room in the Pinnacle Hotel had been extremely comfortable. Last evening I was told that the 84 rooms that the property has are almost...