Is Empathy…Bad?

For years now, I’ve been banging on about empathy and its crucial nature in the workplace. So when this article showed up in my news feed, in agreement with the author of ‘Against Empathy’, I had to drop the Dan Brown I was reading (gasp! blasphemy!) to see just what Paul Bloom had to say for himself.

How can anyone be against empathy? How does the world function without it?

Marketers consciously use empathy to build communications. Companies spend millions on intelligence to understand user behaviour, empathise with their problems, and worm their way into their lives to solve them.

If a business does not have empathy, it will fail. If we don’t have empathy in our personal life, it will fall apart.

Or will it.

I went into the book with a resistance so strong, my impulse was to refute every word he wrote. But I came out of it finding myself agreeing with large chunks. (Eek!)

The Crux

I will not spoil the book for you (it’s most definitely worth a read). It’s helped me see my own rendering and reception of empathy from fresh perspectives. The author quotes innumerable studies, delving into the depths of empathy’s multiple facets.

In the end though, the problem with it is down to semantics.

The empathy he is arguing against, is understandable. A gist of what I agree with; perhaps you will too.

– He argues against emotional empathy – believing that putting yourself in someone’s shoes and feeling their pain can mean you are less helpful than you are capable of being.

– Empathy is not objective – it is dependant on you, the person you are empathising with, and the situation itself. It is also distinct from morality.

– Feeling empathy doesn’t necessarily make us want to do something about it.

– The ability to empathise can be (and is) used for horrible things. If you get someone, you can potentially use that to manipulate or victimise them.

Feelings vs Empathy

“And how does that make you feel?” is the single most important question a therapist asks. Why?

Because to work through whatever is causing us “feelings” manifesting in tears, churning stomachs, or boiling blood, we must first identify and label them. Read more about labelling feelings here.

This article by a therapist beautifully explains how she had to learn to distance herself from the emotions of her patients, to be more useful to them. In a sense, she had to be less empathetic, to be more empathetic. It also outlines three kinds of empathy – emotional, cognitive, compassionate.

 

In order to be truly empathetic, and therefore helpful, we must learn to separate it from emotion.

What Kind of Empathetic Should We Be?

And how the heck do we separate that from our emotions? How do we protect ourselves from being paralysed by feeling what someone else is feeling, and find it in ourselves to make rational decisions, every time?

If your mum is going through a mid-life crisis and struggling to find purpose in life, you will presumably spend more time with her, take her out for ice-cream, stroke her hair and hold her close, and offer solutions that you think might help. When she feels better, you feel better. And you do all this with her, by her side.

If your boss is visibly going through a mid-life crisis, do you stroke his hair and take him out for ice-cream? You understand what he is going through, you empathise with it on an intellectual level, but you may not feel his pain like you feel your mum’s.

If you detested your boss and had to force yourself to work with him everyday, would you still have the same levels of empathy? Would you offer him some kindness, or would you rather take a bath with a toaster?

We react to seemingly similar situations with varying empathy, depending on how we feel about that person. It is not possible, imho, to feel objective emotional empathy.

Workplace Empathy and Cognition

Now to focus on our workplaces, because personal and social situations are endlessly subjective.

In a decade of working, the people I have held steadfast respect for have displayed intelligent, cognitive empathy. They make a sincere attempt to understand you, but refrain from mirroring your feelings. Because if they did, they would fail at responding rationally.

These are usually the kinds of colleagues who try to see things from another person’s point of view, appreciate that there will be conflicting opinions and personalities, and agree to disagree.

They manage to do all this while consistently remaining respectful of colleagues, regardless of their position on the corporate ladder.

Whether or not we actually feel cognitive empathy for our colleagues, our intelligence lies in how we choose to display it.

Maybe you don’t understand why the designer needs 15 days to build a basic UI. Maybe she’s a lazy designer, or maybe you don’t really understand the process. Which one is it?

Perhaps you simply cannot see why your boss doesn’t respond to emails. Maybe you have no empathy for her “I’m too busy” refrain.

2-Way Street

By simply displaying empathy, we earn trust, we receive a response, we dilute conflict, and we build mutual respect. (Cognitively) empathetic leaders build teams that want to do better.

Empathy is fundamental to positive relationships. And positive relationships are key to successful transactions. Ask your sales guy.

So, how can we all show cognitive empathy in our workplaces? How can we keep ourselves from being gridlocked by our colleagues’ emotions, yet show we understand what they are going through (even if just to get work done)?

Use Words

“I hear you.”

“The effort you’ve put into this is loud and clear, so I know you’re not going to like that we’ve decided not to use this. Here’s why.”

“Are you okay? Let’s talk through this over coffee together.”

“Can you help me see what is making this task so challenging?”

Ask Questions, Even If You Don’t Actually Care

“This is a really good design, how did you come up with it?”

“Why do you think this is the wrong thing to do?”

“I can tell you are feeling some discomfort with this – can you help me understand why?”

Use Gestures

A leader I never got to work with but my old colleagues talked about all the time, was one who would come in to the office before everyone else, and leave a cupcake on her team’s desks with a ‘well-done!’ handwritten note. She would only do this if they bagged a huge contract or hit an important deadline, so she did not celebrate average everyday work.

Why did she do this? She did not have any personal feelings for them, and hired and fired as she saw fit. But she empathised with the fact that they worked hard as hell to achieve that result, that it looked great for her portfolio, and displayed that she recognised that.

Is Empathy Dangerous For Us?

Most people will respond positively when in receipt of cognitive empathy. If you say – “I’m sorry for what you’ve had to put up with, and I want you to know that I appreciate your effort,” you’ve most likely secured a tiny spot in their heart. Most people will feel a sudden sense of relief and gratitude that their colleague understands them.

That feeling of security is usually enough to make them want to keep doing better, and turn their empathy in your favour. So even if you’re not really sorry for what they’ve had to put up with, simply displaying it is good for you. (Unless they are just as emotionally intelligent as you are and totally call your bluff).

But there will always be those that use your empathy to perpetuate unfavourable behaviour – complacency, mediocrity, conflict. “You said you understood, but now you don’t understand? Are you always this indecisive?”

You might also find yourself in complex sticky situations. The above colleague might do something that needs reprimanding or disciplinary action. How do you then switch from being the person who empathised with them, to the person who now has to tell them off?

2 Sides To The Empathy Story

Say you and your manager are filled with empathy for each other, and work well together. Both of your KPIs include ‘cost control.’ You’ve hit your targets but your boss misses hers. When its appraisal time, she refuses you a raise so she can hit her cost control goal.

Can you detach yourself from the anger and betrayal you may feel, to empathise with her stance on it, or do you come away having wiped your heart clean of her?

If you are the manager, surely you would expect your team member to empathise with your situation – wouldn’t they do the same in your shoes?

Whose empathy should trump whose?

Tricky, Sticky, Be Picky

Empathy can be tricky. It can be dangerous to us. It’s not consistent, or unwavering, or objective. It is difficult to measure, varies in reception and reciprocation, can be challenging to communicate, and will occasionally, inevitably, produce undesirable results.

It can be hard to separate from emotion – they are miscible elements.

Display too much empathy, and we risk coming across as fake – how can you possibly “understand” everything that everyone says?

While empathy can be a powerful tool to diffuse workplace conflicts and shouting matches across boardroom tables, it can also be our falling.

Heaven forbid you find yourself in a room with two people at loggerheads, both of whom you’ve displayed empathy for. “Are you on my side, or his?!”

“Neither, I just want to get work done” then becomes a null answer. You have lost all clout with both parties.

The thing we can do, is be picky and choose our moments to show empathy (even if you feel it all the time). Not every situation requires it, and we learn to make the best use of it with practice.

You Don’t Have To Go It Alone

Some of us find great mentors at work, many of us don’t. Good mentors can help us evaluate and adjust our giving and receiving of empathy (and everything else at work). If you are so lucky to have a colleague that you ‘click’ with on an intellectual level, grab on to them and never let go!

And remember that your boss needs empathy too, it can get lonely up there.

Do you have a workplace-empathy story to share? Tell me here.

Buy the book here.

 

Arture goes to London Fashion Week

Anybody that’s any kind of entrepreneur will tell you tales of intense highs, and disheartening lows. Of fears holding them back, and of wins propelling them forward.

And this was one heck of a win for Arture – a homegrown fashion brand that I’ve had the privilege to work with.

This February, Arture displayed at the London Fashion Week – the only Indian brand to be showcased at the Commonwealth Fashion Council reception held at the end of Fashion Week, hosted at the New Zealand High Commission in London.

“The CFC works to support and advocate sustainable development, education, youth and gender empowerment in the current and emerging fashion industries within the 52 member Nations of the Commonwealth.”

Arture was approached by the organisation, to collaborate with a Sri Lankan designer to produce bags in their signature material – cork. This was part of the new “100% Made in Commonwealth” initiative, aimed at bringing members of the fashion fraternity from the Commonwealth nations together.

Arture’s incredible story was shared with the High Commissioners, diplomats and fashion designers at the event – a feat that Shivani and Keshsa, the co-founders are incredibly proud of (who I’m honoured to have represented!)

“This backpack was a wonderful collaborative project between Commonwealth nations, and we’re so glad we got a chance to be a part of it,” says Shivani. “As soon as I saw the design, I was excited to work on it. Arture provided the technical expertise and its signature material – cork, to bring the design to life.”

Arture produces sustainable, strong, beautiful accessories made with cork, and have loads of exciting new ideas up their sleeve for this year. Being at London Fashion Week was just the beginning! Read more about their products, and about their collaboration initiatives.

Some other brands that were part of the event included Triarchy, Madam Wokie from Sierra Leone, Koco, Black Coffee, Andrew Logan, and Meiling. Read more.

 

The Best of Sri Lanka’s Stunning Southwest Coast

“This now looks like every other big city” was my first thought when we landed in Colombo. Over the last few years, the city’s cultural charms have slowly given way to modern skyscrapers and globalised aesthetics, at least in the financial and business districts. Perhaps appealing to investors and multinational businesses, its fading individuality makes the culture-traveller feel a tiny bit blue.

The Southwest coast of Sri Lanka offers an ideal break with plenty of interesting experiences. Here are 9 must-do things to add to your list for your next visit:

Walk Along Galle Face Green

1pm may not have been the best time, but the walk along the Galle Face in Colombo was one down memory lane. We started at the Kingsbury Hotel, and walked up to the Galle Face Hotel, checking out the old Parliament and the pelicans on Beira Lake en-route.

The stroll through what felt like a bustling construction site gave us the opportunity to identify all the new buildings that had appeared since we’d last been 3 years ago.

We watched the dredging to build the new Port City in progress, and observed the fish trapped in pools of water left by the receding tide. In the evening, the green offers a refreshing walk by the ocean and a delightful stretch to indulge in romantic rendezvous, while munching on snacks and beverages from the kiosks.

Have an Iced Tea at the Galle Face Hotel

Overlooking the Galle Face Green is the iconic Galle Face Hotel, one of the oldest properties East of the Suez Canal. On our way in we spotted a bride in traditional attire rushing to the ballroom – every inch of her saree covered in magnolia beads, followed by her groom in a puffed sleeve coat and elaborate headgear.

We toyed with the idea of peeking into the decked venue, but found a comfy spot at the hotel’s Traveller’s Bar offering a view of the ocean and manicured lawns instead.

As we sipped the pina coladas and iced teas, we couldn’t help but feel a tinge of excitement knowing that the likes of Arthur Conan Doyle and Mark Twain sat in this very spot to be inspired by the Indian Ocean and the mysteries of Ceylon. Beverages start at around LKR 500.

Dine in the Old Colombo Dutch Hospital

What served as a well-located hospital to treat seafarers and Dutch staff during colonial times, the Dutch Hospital opposite the World Trade Centre is now a heritage building that houses shops and restaurants.

The structure has indoor, outdoor and courtyard dining options. With excellent ratings, the Ministry of Crab is a must-do for seafood aficionados, but was surprisingly empty when we popped in for lunch.

We chose the Harpo’s Colombo Fort Café in search of vegetarian food and were immensely pleased with the creamy garbanzo hummus with warm pita bread, and tacos with fresh vegetables. Remember that between 2 and 5pm, these restaurants aren’t allowed to serve alcoholic beverages so we stuck to coffee and water. In the evenings, the hospital is popular among office-goers to catch up over good food and drink. You can also pick up souvenirs from the many boutique stores.

Visit the Kande Vihara Buddhist Temple

To get to Galle from Colombo, you can choose to drive down the highway, or take the longer country road. We chose the latter. About halfway to Galle is the town of Beruwala which has the magnificent Kande Vihara (meaning: mountain top) Buddhist Temple.

As we drove into the street, the giant serene face of the Buddha greeted us. At 160 feet, this is among the tallest statues of the sitting Buddha in the world. The campus is tranquil, green, and rich with history. Walk around to take in the peaceful vibes, and step inside to appreciate the frescos depicting various scenes from the Buddha’s life.

They only ask that you cover your legs upto your knees before you go in. Entry is free but you can make a donation to the temple if you wish. On-site residents also include a female and bull elephant.

NOTE: You cannot take pictures/selfies along with the Buddha – it is punishable in Sri Lanka.

Say Hello to Baby Turtles

Along the coast are a few turtle hatcheries or conservation centres. At LKR 1000 per person, you can see day-old turtles awaiting release into the ocean. The centre we went to in Bentota was home to full-grown handicapped turtles that would never survive the ocean.

I felt so sorry for the one with a damaged shell, that I dipped my hand into his pond to stroke him, only to send the staff screeching at me to back off. “You are lucky to still have your fingers” I was told. Who knew turtles could bite them off?!

There were also Hawksbills, Terrapins, baby Olive Ridleys, Leatherbacks, Green Sea Turtles, and even the rare albino they lovingly called “Michael Jackson.” Despite seeing the great work they do, a small part of me couldn’t help wondering how much of it was about driving tourism rather than conservation.

Walk the Perimeter of Galle Dutch Fort

After 20 minutes of frantic searching, we were beginning to think the Airbnb we had booked didn’t really exist. But we did finally find it and could not have asked for nicer accommodation.

Checked in and showered, we headed to explore the Fort. The best way to do this is by walking around its perimeter. In just over an hour, you will see clear blue waters, old bastions and grass-clad walls built from sliced coral rock, canons, churches, mosques, Buddhist temples, lighthouses, clock-towers, beaches, cafes, shops, hotels, museums, monitor lizards and fishermen.

If you’re lucky, you may even get to watch a live cricket match at the stadium – we caught Sri Lanka vs Bangladesh! Also an old Dutch colony, Galle has a hospital which has been converted into a food precinct as well. Remember to buy unusual blends of tea here.

Have a Traditional Sri Lankan Curry

Most definitely the highlight of our trip, the Sri Lankan curry we had at the tiny Fort Dew restaurant opposite the Sri Sudharmalaya Buddhist Temple left us licking our fingers and wanting more.

“It’s going to take an hour to make all the curries” the waiter warned us, but we declined his offer of cheese sandwiches. So while the chef made fresh from-scratch creamy curries for us, we waited impatiently for what was undoubtedly one of the best meals of our lives.

Five different gravies served combinations of cabbage, leeks, spicy potato, tender chicken, carrots and a whole lot of flavour, with hot white rice and fried appalams. There simply isn’t a better way to spend an afternoon in Sri Lanka. It is now my hope to someday learn the nuances of the cuisine from a Sri Lankan expert.

Catch the Sunset over the Indian Ocean

Evenings in Galle bring all of its tourists to the walls of the Fort. The stretch offers unrestricted views of the sky turning hues of orange, and the waves shimmering in the fading sunlight. You may even see a lone fisherman making his way to the shore.

It felt strange watching the sun set into the ocean as opposed to the sunrise we have on the beaches of our Coromandel Coast. A good opportunity to get some beautiful photographs, but also one to enjoy the simper pleasures of life.

Don’t stop at the sunset though, because nights come with clear skies and a chance to spot stars, planets and constellations. All shops shut early, but restaurants stay open till about 10pm, so venture out for a stroll through the lovely streets, and perhaps a nightcap to top it off.

Climb Some Rocks on Bentota Beach

Halfway back to Colombo, the beach town of Bentota is popular among European tourists and the resorts are filled with families looking for a sunny break. To get to some of the resorts, you have to take a boat from the mainland, through the Bentara Ganga River, to the beachside.

Bentota beach is flanked by the ocean and the saltwater river, so it’s lined with thriving mangroves. Mostly sandy, the beach also has some rocks that have been shaped by time and tide.

Climbing up the rocks means you can watch a whole range of crabs and sea animals making home against the walls, along with trapped little fish taking leaps of faith from one tiny pool to another in hopes of reaching the ocean. You can also take a boat ride to see saltwater crocodiles, or treat yourself to water sports at the beach.

More:

  • Other things to do along the Southwest Coast include whale watching in Mirissa, diving off Hikkaduwa to see shipwrecks, and snorkelling to see corals in Unawatuna.
  • You can travel the Southwest coast by road – through the highway or the longer country roads which will allow you to go off-track and experience different sites. You can also take the train that runs parallel to the ocean.
  •  The bus-top tour in Colombo can save you time. Although this is quite expensive at $25, and the guide doesn’t really tell you much!

Being #GirlBoss And Everything That Comes With It

Two and a half years ago, when I decided to quit the corporate world and try my luck at self-employment, little did I know that the path held whirlwind lessons and experiences for me.

One of the brands I’ve had the good fortune of working with, is Arture. The brainchild of two young incredible entrepreneurs Shivani Patel and Keshsa Vasant, Arture designs eco-friendly, vegan, sustainable, fashionable accessories. Think functional yet sexy bags, wallets, laptop and Kindle sleeves – all made from strong cork fabric.

Over the year I’ve known them, we’ve worked out of each other’s homes – writing product descriptions, talking database segmentation, stalking bloggers over raw carrots and filter coffee, walking dogs, and skyping across continents.

I will forever be in awe of their thirst for success, and their determination to uphold the values closest to their hearts – something the big bad corporate world can sometimes severely lack.

Shivani and Keshsa came up with #Collaborate – an idea to bring together their team (designers, writers, photographers, stylists) every few months. For the day, one of us teaches the rest of us something new. So far I’ve learned how to dress to express, and had some solid lessons in home decor.

To mark their second anniversary (Yay Arture!) they put together the 2017 Collaborative: #GirlBoss Edition.

“In the last two years, we’ve worked with a whole range of self-employed professionals and business owners – most of whom happen to be women. We wanted to find a way to celebrate that with #GirlBoss” says Shivani.

Breaking The Ice

That title is a lie, because there was no ice to break. We instantly bonded over the challenges we face as 20-something female professionals and business owners. The team included fashion designers, make-up artists, accessory manufacturers, a fitness instructor, retail store owners, a wedding planner, a chartered accountant, a photographer, an NGO founder, restaurant owners, mums, mums-to-be, writers, and certified scuba instructors. Continue reading Being #GirlBoss And Everything That Comes With It

The Allure of Ellora & Ajanta

Are you embarrassed by your fellow-travellers? Do you cringe and step away to disassociate yourself from selfie-obsessed loud littering tourists? Do you groan at the sound of passengers unbuckling themselves from the shackles of the airplane seat-belt the second the wheels touch land? I do.

Why do people leave garbage at monuments? Why do we scribble on the walls? Why must we express our love for Mona and Shona and Ramesh on ancient structures? Nobody cares that you <3 Kishore, Laila!

This unsolicited marking of territory is no better than the apartment kitten I feed everyday, who has recently discovered he is a boy and must wee on my couch to announce his existence. He has been christened Lulu McSusuFace, and is not allowed inside my home anymore. Ah who am I kidding. Of course he is. Look at that moonji.

Lulu with his sisters

On this trip to Aurangabad, apart from the beautiful caves, I saw the following:

  • Morons climb up an ancient monument with their shoes on to get selfies, and then walk past the rest of the temples without even looking.
  • People scribble on the walls of the 2000 year old cave structures.
  • Families have a picnic in the lovely lawns, and then leave their garbage there.
  • Stone-carved goddesses with well-worn breasts and thighs because guess where people like to touch the statues the most.
  • Flash photography inside the dark caves that house the world-famous Ajanta paintings.
  • People scream at their kids to stand still for photographs inside the Buddhist shrines, while the serene chanting was in progress. 
  • People scratch the painted walls and then say “huh, it’s not very well maintained, the paint is coming off.”

If you plan a trip to Ajanta-Ellora, please do your bit to not destroy what remains of our heritage! Continue reading The Allure of Ellora & Ajanta

I’m A Trailing Spouse

My life will never be the same again.

“I’m losing my mind!” I text my friend N
“Write it, sketch it, thoughts you should pen.”

There’s nothing to tell, I think
It’s snowing nonstop, I’m on the brink.

This weather is unusual they all said
It’ll get better, it’s all in your head.

Look for work, the economy is great!
Where do you even start, it’s like going on a blind date.

“I’m a communications professional,” I say
“Okay, but do you even speak any UK?”

We can talk about this wretched weather if you like
Over a nice cup of tea, biscuit on the side?

Blue Planet or Madam May
Corbyn, Brexit, your NHS delay?

Let’s go for a walk! To my spouse I moan
“It’s freezing out, you’re on your own!”

I toy with it for half an hour
Screw it, brave the cold over staying sour.

There’s eerie silence on the street
And unfamiliar sounds of ice crunching under my feet. Continue reading I’m A Trailing Spouse

Listen: A New Way To See Chennai

Even before we learned about the Partition in history class at school, our grandparents told us tales – tales of heroism and cowardice, of homes left behind and acquaintances lost. They told us of the fear and the resentment, the times they felt their hearts in their throats.

We listened wide eyed and fascinated, to stories etched in their memories from 7 decades ago. These were history lessons sans facts and figures, but they stuck. I will never forget them – they help me see an entire generation of people in a new light.

I understand why they are the way they are. I understand why they hold on to some material possessions and see no value in others. I understand their warrior instinct, I see why they aren’t willing to let go of some prejudices. All thanks to their stories.

Storytrails

When someone asks us – how is work? The answer is usually along- oh it’s all right, you know, my boss is okay and I have a wonderful team. The highlight of my day is lunchtime as this colleague brings hot mum-cooked food and has to bring an extra dabba for the rest of us!

As opposed to – Work is good, my office has a 5 foot long desk and the A/C is not too cold. I do have to climb up 50 steps though, but can’t complain.

We share experiences through stories.

Surely then, every city and its history has fascinating stories too. Some partially true, some cooked up through the ages, some mythological, some factual.

Going strong for 11 years now, Storytrails has regaled thousands of visitors to Chennai with its stories. The company hosts walking tours in Chennai, Madurai and Pondicherry, with ‘storytellers’ who will entertain you with tidbits you can never find in a book or blog, or even from a travel guide looking to make his quick buck and be done with you ASAP.

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Audio Tours

A brand new venture, Storytrails has now forayed into audio tours, offering trails on an app. It has been a truly humbling experience learning about my city, and lending voice to these tales.

Did you know, for example, that Chennai has one of the only 3 churches in the world, built on top of an Apostle’s remains? I sure as hell (sorry St. Thomas, I mean heck) didn’t!

I learned about Cenotaph Road, about King James’ new crown, the sparring sects of Christianity, the thieving British (but also the good ones like Annie Besant), the love-hate relationship between the English and the French that extended to Chennai as well. I learned about the mighty Pallavas and their mightier egos, that the Pancha Pandava Rathas have nothing to do with the Pandavas, and that Ganesha wasn’t part of Shiva’s family in South India for a long time!

If you live in Chennai, these trails are guaranteed to have you look at your own city from a fresh perspective. And if you’re a visitor, there really is no better way to learn!

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Download the app here, to walk (and listen to) the British Blueprints and Mamallapuram trails!

Waking Up To The Taj Mahal

Ticket guy at Taj Mahal: You have to pay 1,000 rupees for the ticket madam.

Me: But….that’s the foreigners ticket price. The Indian ticket is 40 rupees.

Guy: Yes.

Me: But I’m Indian.

Guy: How do I know that? You look like you could be a foreigner.

Me: But…what? We’re literally the same race! What?!

Guy: Can you prove you are Indian?

Me: But… main Chennai mein rehti hoon, kaun si bhasha samajhte hain aap? Naan Chennai le indhu vandirukein. Tamil Nadu India le iruku, theriyuma ungalku?

Guy: Whatever. Can you prove you are an Indian citizen?

Me: I have a PAN card…

Guy: I need to see your passport.

Me: Who brings their passport to the Taj! I’ve left it in the hotel!

Guy: Have you got your Aadhaar Card?

Me: ….no?

Guy: In that case please pay 1,000 rupees for a foreigner ticket.

I had been up since 4am to catch the sunrise over the Taj Mahal, managed to wake a sleepy auto driver to take me there in the dark, got to the counter well before it opened, and was mighty proud to be the first in the Indian ladies queue. There are 4 queues – Indian men, Indian women, foreign men, foreign women. Besides me, there were some scruffy hippie Aussie tourists who looked like they had camped outside the Taj to be able to beat the morning lines. Continue reading Waking Up To The Taj Mahal

Beyond The Taj – Agra’s Other Stunning Structures

The city of Agra is perhaps one of the most visited by foreign tourists coming to “discover India.” From Delhi, the Gatimaan Express (the fastest in the country) gets you to Agra in about 100 minutes, serves a meal, and even has hostesses, as the public sector attempts to up their tourism game.

But as soon as you step in to what was once capital of the great Mughal empire, you see that it is utterly chaotic, underdeveloped, and a challenge to navigate. It is quite unfortunate that the divide between the rich architectural history, and the current state of affairs is so extreme.

Nevertheless, Agra has plenty for the tourist apart from the Taj Mahal, which will no doubt be the crowning glory of a trip to the city.

Fatehpur Sikri

To get here from Agra, we booked a cab online with Gozocabs. The driver was well-spoken and knew where he was going, although a little on the expensive side. On the drive there, we encountered groups of religious protesters carrying swords and chanting slogans. It freaked us out when the driver turned around to make sure our doors were locked. They didn’t seem interested in passersby though, but our heart rate took a while to come back down again. Continue reading Beyond The Taj – Agra’s Other Stunning Structures

In Pictures: Discovering Delhi

The capital city of Delhi is one of contradictions. It houses some of the greatest architectural accomplishments of the mighty Mughals and other Islamic rulers, and is yet one of the most congested, polluted cities I have been to. It’s got lavish malls and an excellent Metro system, and yet only areas of commercial and diplomatic importance are clean, green and well-maintained. For the history and architecture buff, there couldn’t be a better city in the country.

Getting around Delhi is super-easy, with the Delhi Metro Rail being efficient, well-connected, unbelievably cheap, and extremely helpful to outsiders. Uber and Ola help things even more, allowing you to discover the city’s jewels at your own pace.

Humayun’s Tomb

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Humayun’s Tomb – constructed in memory of the great Emperor Humayun, commissioned by his grieving wife.
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Humayun’s Tomb – the structure was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993, which was followed by repair and restoration work.

Continue reading In Pictures: Discovering Delhi