Friday, 23 March 2018


Fake news is news, stories or hoaxes created to deliberately misinform or deceive readers. There are three elements to fake news; ‘Mistrust, misinformation and manipulation’.
Usually, these stories are created to influence people’s views, push a political agenda or cause confusion and can often be a profitable business for online publishers. Fake news stories can deceive people by looking like trusted websites or using similar names and web addresses to reputable news organizations.

As a rough guide, a Google News search of "fake news" throws up 5 million results, and already in 2018 the phrase has been used about two million times on Twitter. Clearly the enabler of the modern form of "fake news" - or, if you like, misinformation - has been the explosive growth of social media. Facebook, Twitter and now WhatsApp are fertile media for its unhindered propagation and in India we have seen that this can result in social unrest, havoc, confusion, communal disharmony and death.

Craig Silverman, the media editor of ‘Buzzfeed’ in  mid-2016, noticed a funny stream of completely made-up stories that seemed to originate from one small Eastern European town. Curious to know more about this his people ended up finding a small cluster of news websites all registered in the same town in Macedonia called Veles which were hatching these news feeds. They identified at least 140 fake news websites which were pulling in huge numbers on Facebook shortly before the US election.

The young people in Veles may or may not have had much interest in American politics, but because of the money to be made via Facebook advertising, they wanted their fiction to travel widely on social media. The US presidential election - and specifically Donald Trump - was (and of course still is) a very hot topic on social media and the city was getting rich by fake news!
And so the Macedonians and other purveyors of fakery wrote stories with headlines such as "Pope Francis Shocks World, Endorses Donald Trump for President" and "FBI Agent Suspected in Hillary Email Leaks Found Dead in Apparent Murder-Suicide". They were completely false. And thus began the modern - and internet-friendly - life of the phrase "fake news".

Misinformation, spin, lies and deceit have of course been around in the in internet forever. The 2014 General Elections in India which saw the demise of Congress and the resurgence of BJP also witnessed a social media war between the right wing aggressors and the left wing defenders, the latter eventually losing ground and power.  But in the 2016 American elections a unique marriage between social media algorithms, advertising systems, and people prepared to make stuff up to earn some easy cash and an election that gripped the oldest democracy and much of the world all provided a heady mix and fertile soil for Fake News to germinate.

Types of Fake News
1. Clickbait
These are stories that are deliberately fabricated to gain more website visitors and increase advertising revenue for websites. Clickbait stories use sensationalist headlines to grab attention and drive traffic to the publisher website, which is paying money for the same, normally at the expense of truth or accuracy.
2. Propaganda
Stories that are created to deliberately mislead audiences, promote a biased point of view or particular political cause or agenda. The elections in India and America and the Brexit referendum fell victim to these and agencies like Cambridge Analytica harvested personal likes and dislikes from people’s social website footprints and then launched information warfare to mould their political persuasions.
3. Satire/Parody
Lots of websites and social media accounts publish fake news stories for entertainment and parody. Rahul Gandhi and Donald Trump are made to look like flustering clowns  with subnormal intelligence by many such websites.
4. Sloppy and Irresponsible Journalism
Sometimes reporters or journalists may publish a story with unreliable information or without checking all of the facts which can mislead audiences. The “story” of ‘Fatwa in Saudi Arabia that men can eat their wives if hungry’ was carried by India Today’s Hindi channel had its origins in a satirical column by a Moroccan blogger. The less said about this so-called newsbreak the better but it does leave us wondering about the motives of Aaj Tak behind circulating such obviously fake stories. 
5. Misleading Headings
Stories that are not completely false can be distorted using misleading or sensationalist headlines. These types of news can spread quickly on social media sites where only headlines and small snippets of the full article are displayed on audience newsfeeds. Zee News screamed ‘President Kovind gaining three million followers in the span of one hour’ without pausing to think if this was really possible. In reality, President Kovind had merely inherited the followers of President Mukherjee. Official Twitter accounts of the President, Vice President and various Ministries are considered digital assets that belong to the government. 
6. Biased/Slanted News
Many people are drawn to news or stories that confirm their own beliefs or biases and fake news can prey on these biases. Social media news feeds tend to display news and articles that they think we will like based on our personalised searches.

From where are you getting your News?
Many people now get news from social media sites and networks and often it can be difficult to tell whether stories are credible or not. Information overload and a general lack of understanding about how the internet works has also contributed to an increase in fake news or hoax stories. Social media sites can play a big part in increasing the reach of these types of stories. The economics of social media favour gossip, novelty, speed and “shareability” and the lack lustre show of the established media, who have to propagate their owner’s agenda and political views have resulted in creating a fertile soil for germination and growth of fake news. Otherwise why should the Times Now news reader scream “the caliphate has put a price on your faith” and then show a Rate card to convert Hindus - a Hindu Brahmin girl for five lakhs, for a Sikh Punjabi girl seven lakh, for a Gujarati Brahmin six lacks, Hindu Khastriya gal – four and a half lakhs, Hindu OBC/SC/ST – two lakhs, Buddhist girl – one and a half lakh, a Jain girl 3 lakh rupees, and so on and so forth!

In India Fake News can kill
Fake information builds fear psychosis among people and this adds to tension within communities, and, over the years, several people have lost lives because of false information and rumours. One such fake news report about child kidnappers in Jharkhand led to the lynching of seven people in May 2017. A mob went on a killing spree, three innocent men were beaten to death as the angry mob wrongly believed those men were human traffickers. In all seven people lost their lives in two separate incidences in a fury that was born on social media and based on falsified information that the killers received over Whats App messenger

How to spot fake news?
Not only simpletons but even highly-educated people can be duped by lies as well  but they can often be more stubborn when presented with information that challenges their views or their intelligence. There are a number of things to watch out for when evaluating content online.
1. Take a closer look
Check the source of the story, do you recognise the website? Is it a credible/reliable source? If you are unfamiliar with the site, look in the about section or find out more information about the author.
2. Look beyond the headline
Check the entire article, many fake news stories use sensationalist or shocking headlines to grab attention. Often the headlines of fake new stories are in all caps and use exclamation points.
3. Check other sources
Are other reputable news/media outlets reporting on the story? Are there any sources in the story? If so, check they are reliable or if they even exist!
4. Check the facts
Fake news stories often contain incorrect dates or altered timelines. It is also a good idea to check when the article was published, is it current or an old news story?
5. Check your biases
Are your own views or beliefs affecting your judgement of a news feature or report?
Is it a joke?
6. Satirical sites are popular online and sometimes it is not always clear whether a story is just a joke or parody… Check the website, is it known for satire or creating funny stories?

If you keep repeating a lie it becomes truth!
In the early days of Twitter, people would call it a 'self-cleaning oven', because yes there were falsehoods, but the community would quickly debunk them but now we're at a scale where if you add in automation and bots, that oven is overwhelmed. Today if you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. Congress is trying to make us believe that though all the loans were facilitated to Vijay Malya and Nirav Modi by their finance ministers Modi is responsible for their absconding beyond the reach of justice! Repetitive tweets and posts on a particular topic, or hashtag, are aimed at trending the related subject to the extent that it becomes a popular, believable narrative.

Fact checking sites
India is one of the biggest internet markets in the world, and one of the busiest manufacturer of fake news, but Indian society has also given birth to important initiatives to tackle the issue of false information. For instance, a news portal called The Quint has started a section called Webqoof that debunks fake news (it’s a pun in Hindi, as bewquf means “stupid”). Some grassroots, citizen-driven anti-fake news websites are: (1) Boom FactCheck (BFC), established by Govindraj Ethiraj, (2) Social Media Hoax Slayer (SMHS), started and run by Pankaj Jain, (3) Pratik Sinha’s Alt News and (4) initiated by Shammas Oliyath and Bal Krishn Birla. Snopes: Internationally we have PolitiFact:, Fact Check: and BBC Reality Check: which can come to your rescue.

Media is no longer passively consumed – it’s created, shared, liked, commented on, attacked and defended in all sorts of different ways by hundreds of millions of people. And the algorithms used by the most powerful tech companies –Google and Facebook in particular – are brilliantly designed to personalise and tailor these services to each user’s profile. While it is quite understandable for hapless individuals, prototyped by their Facebook profile, to fall prey to fake news specially targeted to psychographic type, how can mainstream media fall victim to these news items is beyond comprehension. The holy trinity of fake news comprises of mistrust, misinformation and manipulation, and this is exactly what the mainstream professional media needs to avoid. So are they being sloppy and incompetent or do they have an agenda and are being smart and greedy?

Wednesday, 14 March 2018


Prof. Stephen Hawkins is no more. He was one of the most beloved scientists in this generation not only for his intellect, but for his wit and humour. He was a theoretical physicist, cosmologist, author and Director of Research at the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology within the University of Cambridge. He was 76 and he suffered from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. The crippling disease confined him to an electric wheelchair for much of his adult life. Diagnosed at age 21, he was one of the world’s longest survivors of ALS.

His life was an example of the triumph of mind over body. “My expectations were reduced to zero when I was 21. Everything since then has been a bonus” he would say. He had so much to achieve in life that he postponed his death almost willingly. He once said “I have lived with the prospect of an early death for the last 49 years. I’m not afraid of death, but I’m in no hurry to die. I have so much I want to do first.” At an Oxford University Union speech in 2016 he revealed his mantra of life "However difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at. It matters that you don't just give up." "I have always tried to overcome the limitations of my condition and lead as full a life as possible. I have traveled the world, from the Antarctic to zero gravity. Perhaps one day I will go into space."

Hawking was born on January 8th, 1942 in Oxford, the United Kingdom to two Oxford University graduates, Frank and Isobel. He had two younger sisters, Philippa and Mary, as well as an adopted brother named Edward. The family moved to St. Alban’s, Hertfordshire, where they were considered to be both highly intelligent and somewhat eccentric by the locals. They lived frugally in a large, messy house and got around in a converted London taxi cab.

Following his primary and secondary school education, Hawking began his university education as an undergraduate at University College, Oxford in 1959 at the age of 17. Although the world only pictures him as a man confined to a wheelchair due to debilitating motor neuron disease that he was diagnosed with aged just 21, Hawking actually gained a reputation as being something of a daredevil during his university years. He was the coxswain of a rowing crew at the University College Boat Club, and became notorious for steering his crew on risky courses, inevitably leading to a string of damaged rowing boats. He left University College with a Bachelor of Arts in natural science in 1962 prior to starting to work on his doctorate.

He was diagnosed with a rare form of motor neuron disease around that time, and this led him to become deeply depressed. Nevertheless, he was encouraged to continue his studies by his supervisor, Dennis William Sciama, and was eventually able to demonstrate that Einstein’s general theory of relativity implies space and time would have a beginning in the Big Bang and end in black holes. He completed his doctorate on the origins of the universe, became a research fellow at Caius College.

Despite beginning to use crutches in the early 1960s, he long fought off having to use a wheelchair, but when he finally couldn’t do so any longer, he gained notoriety for wild driving on the streets of Cambridge. He also used to run over students’ toes intentionally and would even spin himself on the dance floor at college parties.

During his graduate years at Cambridge, Hawking fell in love with his first wife, Jane Wilde, whom he married in 1965 and they had three children. The marriage would end some 30 years later after the marriage succumbed to the pressures of Prof. Hawking’s fame, ideological differences and the difficulties surrounding caring for him in light of his disability. He remarried in mid 1990s.

As Prof. Hawking’s fame increased his health worsened. After his degenerative muscle disorder was diagnosed, he defied medical opinion by living five decades longer than expected. He communicated his ideas through an American-accented speech synthesizer after a life-saving tracheotomy in 1985 took away his ability to speak. To the layman, the robot-like voice only seemed to give his words added authority.

Together with Roger Penrose, Prof. Hawking had his first major breakthrough in 1970. They were able to use mathematics to show that a singularity, a region of infinite curvature in space-time, was the point from which the big bang emanated. Prof. Hawking realized the mathematical approaches he developed with mathematician Roger Penrose could be applied to black holes, a term coined by physicist John Wheeler. Prof. Hawking worked for the next four years on black holes, discovering they weren't totally black, but leaked radiation, now known as "Hawking radiation". Later he realized that he was wrong in his argument about black holes being able to radiate and boldly accepted it. Prof. Hawking was in a Cambridge pub with his students when he suddenly turned up his voice synthesizer to full volume and bellowed that he was conceding defeat. Anyone who studied under his tuition or knew him personally knew him for his wicked sense of humor.

Prof. Hawking was elected to the Royal Society in 1974 aged just 32 after the series of radical discoveries he made during his early career, and would become the Lucasian professor of mathematics at Cambridge for the next 30 years. The latter position is often thought as the UK’s most distinguished academic chair and was once held by Isaac Newton.

His 1988 book, A Brief History of Time, catapulted Hawking to international stardom. It sold over 10 million copies and was translated into no less than 40 different languages. His other popular books included The Universe in a Nutshell (2001), On the Shoulders of Giants (2002) and The Grand Design (2010). “For millions of years, mankind lived just like the animals. Then something happened which unleashed the power of our imagination. We learned to talk and we learned to listen. Speech has allowed the communication of ideas, enabling human beings to work together to build the impossible. Mankind’s greatest achievements have come about by talking, and its greatest failures by not talking. It doesn’t have to be like this. Our greatest hopes could become reality in the future. With the technology at our disposal, the possibilities are unbounded. All we need to do is make sure we keep talking.”

Then US president Barack Obama awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Hawking in 2009, the year of his retirement. During his lifetime, he won the Albert Einstein Award, the Wolf Prize, the Copley Medal and the Fundamental Physics Prize, however, the Nobel Prize for Physics eluded him.

Perhaps it’s not surprising to know that Prof. Hawking was not a religious man, and dismissed the comforts of religious belief. He once said "God may exist, but science can explain the universe without the need for a creator." He was of the opinion that "The scientific account is complete. Theology is unnecessary." Mocking at those who believe in destiny and karma he said “I have noticed even people who claim everything is predestined, and that we can do nothing to change it, look before they cross the road.”

His life has also been immortalized on screen and in 2015, Eddie Redmayne won an Oscar for his portrayal of Hawking in ‘The Theory of Everything’, a film about the scientist's life. Not to miss out on the opportunity to crack a joke he famously said "Unfortunately, Eddie [Redmayne] did not inherit my good looks."

The great cosmologist is survived by his three children from his first marriage, together with his three grandchildren. "It would not be much of a universe, if it wasn't home to the people you love"
he once said. They will miss him and so will the world!

May his soul rest in peace. We will miss him forever.

Thursday, 8 March 2018


Free meals and drinks, expansive and comfortable seats, personal attention from flight attendants and other amenities kept the price of plane tickets relatively high. Airline deregulation and the changing economics of the airline industry in the 1970s and '80s lead to a new type of airline category - the budget airline. Our Prime Minister intends to make air travel so affordable that people who wear flip flop slippers can travel on an aeroplane, and it is happening today. Our airports have started looking like bus stations with long lines in front of the gates.

But flying airplanes is a costly business. Buying expensive planes worth 50 to 300 million USD, hiring pilots who don’t come cheap, buying expensive aviation fuel, countless other expenses like maintenance costs, fees paid to airports, fees paid to the government, the cost of food served to passengers, the cost of running computer systems to track bookings all weigh down an airline's bottom line. Fees and percentages paid to travel agents and Web sites, pilot training, and other incidental costs all add to operating expenses. Empty seats represent an additional cost.

So how can budget airlines offer tickets almost matching the cost of AC First Class train ticket? They manage this by cutting their own operating costs. How do they cut costs? There are many ways an airline can trim operating expenses, but budget airlines are most well-known for cutting back on passenger luxuries, or making passengers pay for luxuries à la carte.

If you've ever purchased a ticket for a Low-Cost flight, you've probably noticed that almost every upgrade and service you want - whether it's luggage, plane meals, seat selections, etc. - will cost you a lot of extra money, and sometimes lead to high fines, to the point where the cheap and seductive price offered by these airlines will already become quite expensive when compared to a regular flight. But that is not all they are saving in and so it is important to know their entire game plan so that you do not feel cheated.

1.      Ticket purchase:  Some budget airlines use the age-old cost-cutting practice of "cutti­ng out the middleman," and not allowing their tickets to be sold through these third party outlets. Instead, they only sell tickets through their own Web site or at the ticket counter. Low-cost flights are supposed to be significantly cheaper than regular flights or charter flights, but note that if this is a high demand period such as holidays or concentrated vacations, the cost of these flights may be the same as regular priced flights, or negligibly cheaper, so it is best to compare prices especially during these times.
2.      Seat selection: Some of the Low-Cost companies charge for seat selection - and each seat is prioritized: for example, a seat next to an emergency exit with a lot of leg room will cost more than a "regular" seat. Then again when you are flying with family, particularly children if you don’t book seats in advance (either at a surcharge or at the ticket price) the airline may seat you separately.
3.      Food: Most of the Low-Cost airlines don’t include a meal in the price of the flight ticket and therefore you’ll need to purchase the meal separately. However, even if you don't do so in advance while booking, you probably will be charged much more in flight. Then again if you have pre booked meals you will be served before those who purchase meals in flight. Always have cash ready to pay as many types of credit cards may not be respected by the airline. Please note that using a credit card outside the country involves high fees.
4.      Luggage: Before you arrive at the airport, weigh your luggage at home, after checking the airline's website about the weight and size allowance of carry-ons, and stow away luggage. If you arrived at the airport with a large suitcase weighing much more than the permissible limit or if you exceeded the weight of your carry-on, note that this excess weight will cost you quite a bit of time and money when going through check-in and boarding. Also, note that many companies won’t let you be clever and move things around from one bag to another. In budget airlines it is wise to travel light.
5.      Check in: The check-in process opens between one month and 48 hours prior to the flight-depending on the airline and its policy, and closes two to three hours before departure. The process is free, as long as it is done in advance on the company's website, and sometimes requires printing and presenting the boarding pass, which will be provided to you by the company website. Some companies allow you to check in on their mobile app but in all Indian airports you will need a printed boarding pass either generated from your home/office computer or from the airline’s kiosks or from the booking desk. As this document needs to be stamped you can’t have in your phone. Some overseas budget airlines are known to cancel your ticket and not offer any refund if you do not do web check-in.
6.      Cancellations: Most tickets on budget airlines are non-refundable. Even if it is refundable if you are forced to cancel or change the time of your flight, this will usually result in a charge set by the airline. The best way to get information about this subject is to be informed in advance via your airline’s website. If you change your flight to another time that is more expensive, you‘ll probably be asked to pay the difference, and it's not definite that you’ll get a refund if the alternative flight is cheaper. An important tip to consider is that if you cancel or change a flight as a result of an illness, injury, or, God forbid, the death of a relative, and you have already purchased travel insurance, you may be reimbursed by the insurance company.
7.      Destination airport: Low-cost flights often land in secondary and remote airports from city centers, because airport taxes are higher at central airports - take this into consideration and be prepared for the time and expense of arriving from a remote airport to the city center or to your hotel. Indigo, GoAir and Spicejet land in Terminal 1 whereas the full fare airlines land in the much swankier Terminal 3 in Delhi. A major airport, like Chicago O'Hare, is in high demand from airlines. The airport commands higher fees because so many airlines want to use it. Chicago's Midway Airport is less popular, though it serves the same basic function - allowing planes to take off and land near the Chicago metropolitan area and budget airlines go for it. The airports in Washington, D.C. are very expensive for airlines and passengers. The airport in nearby Baltimore, Md., is cheaper, and though it requires a train ride or a drive to get into D.C. it is still preferred by budget airlines.
8.      Inconvenient flight schedules: Some Low-Cost flights offer flight times in hours that may bring you to your desired destination in the middle of the night and bring you back home early in the morning – meaning you’ll lose a day of your vacation or work. If you’ve purchased an intercontinental low-cost flight that includes a "connecting" flight, it is possible that the cheap and cost-effective price will be paid in full through very long waiting hours between flights.

Before Low-Cost flights start charging for restroom use, what seems to be likely in the future, and before you book your tickets for your next vacation abroad with one of these airlines be aware of the realities of budget airlines. Try to extract from their website as many details as possible about company policies such as check-in, seat selection, baggage included in the payment, etc., to make an informed decision as to whether the price of the flight will indeed pay off after all the additions.

Tuesday, 20 February 2018



When it comes to air travel I am a window addict. While doing web check in I go first for the window away from the wings for a better and uninterrupted view during takeoff and landing and if I fail to do so I try my level best to plead, charm and coax the airlines booking agent to give me a good window seat. The thrill of taking off from the ground to a Google map view and to see the known landmarks of the source and destination cities from the air as the birds only see is a treat I would never like to miss. Seeing the world from above gives you a different perspective on the world. Patterns emerge, nature shines and cities feel colossal. 

The tea gardens of Kerala
The fabulous landscapes of farmland or forested areas are certainly a view you can’t see from the ground. Farm fields take on the appearance of a scattered checker board with circles of wheat and alfalfa, while shadows cast from surrounding hills create a view that is unmatched. Countless people would like to a climb mountain to see the summit. If you don’t have the time or the expertise to climb a mountain, why not take a plane and enjoy the view of beautiful mountain tops from a window seat? You can enjoy the view of numerous peaks and valleys at the same time.

The city lights of Dubai
I live in Lucknow and if I take an early morning flight to Delhi then from the right windows I can see the sun rising from the Himalayas, which in turn goes to the left side if I am flying towards Kolkata in the east. Sunsets are beautiful and are enjoyed by many people on beaches or even against the skyline of a bustling city, but there is nothing like a sunset seen from an airplane.  Only from an airplane does a sunset act as a backdrop to the clouds and a dimming blue sky, making the horizon seem only an arm’s reach away. While it can sometimes be tiring to wait at the airport late at night, nighttime flights allow you to enjoy the remarkable view of city lights at night. These amazing views are really breathtaking as the entire landscape seems to come to life with the intricate patterns of bright lights that define communities across the country.

Another breathtaking sight to see from an airplane is a series of beautiful islands against the backdrop of the vast ocean. Seeing spots of white and green against the blue hue of the sea certainly makes for a marvelous sight – one you really won’t ever see unless you are in an airplane.  The Great Barrier Reef tops my list in this category and a flight from Brisbane to Cairns with a right window seat is simply divine!
Dubai - crisscross motorways
While you may be tired of seeing advertisements on television or while browsing the internet, you may be surprised to see advertisements on the roof of a building as you start your descent.

Cityscapes are absolutely stunning and when while landing in Sydney you are flying over the beautiful Sydney harbour, identifying the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge from high above brings the same shivers in my body as it did the first time I saw them from far above. Similarly the Wankhede Stadium and the Marine Drive in Mumbai the Howrah Bridge, Vivekananda Setu and the Eden Gardens in Kolkata and the Big Ben, the Westminster and the London Eye in London also give me the same joy which I used to experience as a child. While approaching JFK International the view of the Statue of Liberty and the Manhattan Island is stunning on a clear day the city lights of Dubai and Paris are no less spectacular. Los Angeles, Beijing and Delhi are often engulfed in smog and are very disappointing. On a clear day in LA if you are landing from the east you can see the downtown, and Hollywood if you know where to look, even the hillside Hollywood sign!
Sydney harbour
Some landings are simply spectacular. Wellington’s Beehive parliament is an identifiable landmark as we circle the airstrip but as we approach it from sea side rock fangs lashed by waves and brooding hills give way to one of the world's remarkable runways which seems as if someone had simply widened an urban street and decided to land jets on it. Suddenly, cramped wooden houses whip past, so startlingly close that you can almost peep into their living rooms. I couldn't help but wonder what it was like to live in what I discovered later was Bridge Street in the suburb of Rongotai. As planes land, its inhabitants must endure a regular roaring cataclysm, enough to rattle porcelain on the sideboard and the teeth in grandma's head. A mechanical wind must rip washing from their garden lines and toss it into stunted trees. It seems amazing that they just get on with their everyday business while I'm hurtling at 250km/h in an aluminium tube towards a close encounter with concrete.
Over Tames River, London
Land by day in LA and you see an urban nightmare. By night, it's the great American dream, a fantasy cobweb strung with lights and Californian promise. Fly from the south into New York's LaGuardia airport and the plane usually tracks up the East River with the whole Manhattan skyline out the left window. If you approach from the other direction, you'll have to settle for the New York Mets baseball park and Flushing Meadows' tennis courts. While flying into Washington DC's Ronald Reagan airport insist on getting the left window. You come in fairly steeply over the Potomac River and as the plane banks you see the whole of the National Mall from Lincoln Memorial to Capitol Hill, just like the opening of a political-thriller movie.

The cricket stadium and the beach

For me, though, there are few aircraft views to beat flying from Jammu to Srinagar. Just get a window seat, right or left and enjoy the Himalayas. Another heaven is Queenstown in New Zealand. You go there to trek the Milford Sound but from the airplane window you have the whole of the New Zealand Alps as a frozen pavlova below you, cut through by glacial lakes and dark valleys. As your plane descends, the peaks get closer, like a shark's mouth opening to swallow you up. You skim over a snowy ridge and straight up Lake Wakatipu with mountains on either side of the wingtips.

Approaching Guarulhos International Airport, Sao Paulo, Brazil
Lots of airports provide the great alpine views you'd imagine: Aspen in Colorado, Lukla airport in Nepal, Innsbruck in Austria, Geneva in Switzerland but Srinagar in Kashmir is matchless. Any short ride across the Alps is splendid: Geneva-Venice, Zurich-Milan, Munich-Zagreb. For the Rockies, try Vancouver-Calgary, Vancouver-Whitehorse, Las Vegas-Denver, or any route that crosses Colorado. In the Andes, you can't beat flying from La Paz either to Lima or Santiago. Onwards from there, directly south to Punta Arenas unite mountains and fjords in a spectacle to make the soul sing.
The world's best landing is sadly no more. When I first flew into Hong Kong from the right-hand side of the aircraft, the landing at old Kai Tak airport was beyond thrilling. The plane's wheels practically twanged the antennae atop apartment blocks and blew the toupees of plane-spotters on a car park roof. You could see the wrinkles on the faces of Chinese grannies on their balconies, and drying laundry, and peer into flats where televisions flickered.Pilots had to rely on their nerves and stick-and-rudder skills to navigate what they called the "Kai Tak heart attack". Pilots flew across one of the world's most densely populated harbours and had to veer sharply at low altitude, on spotting an infamous orange-and-white checkerboard, in order to line up with the runway. In the typhoon season, winds and poor visibility added to the drama. For passengers agog at windows, it was however a tilting world of close urban encounters.
Bosphorus Strait, Istambul

The world is really a beautiful place that can be enjoyed more fully from 30,000 feet. The amazing views from the airplane window will give you a new appreciation for Mother Earth. The next time you fly for business or a vacation, take a moment to appreciate these spectacular views and make your trip all the more enjoyable.

Monday, 12 February 2018


 The common cold is something that afflicts many of us almost every winter.  Typical symptoms associated with common cold are well known to both doctors and patients but there are tons of things we don’t actually know about it. Over half of patients start by developing a sore throat followed by congestion in the sinuses and the nose, sneezing and a runny nose. These symptoms are usually accompanied by fever, cough, and hoarseness which may outlast them sometimes by a few weeks. High fevers, are however, rare from common cold alone.
Other less common symptoms of common cold include headache, decreased appetite, muscle aches, sore throat and post-nasal drip that cause cough on lying on the back. Patients are at their most infectious during the first 24 hours but they continue to remain infectious for the duration of the symptoms. As the cold progresses, the discharge from your nose will initially be runnier but will thicken and may even turn yellow. However, this is quite normal and there is rarely any need for antibiotics.
In most cases, the common cold goes away within five to ten days although a few symptoms can last for as long as three weeks among certain individuals.

Due to the ease with which the common cold virus gets transmitted from the mouth, nose or sneezed or coughed as droplets by an infected individual or from the hand of one individual to another’s hand can also result in transmission if the second person proceed to rub or touch his/her nose or eyes, a new infection takes root. That is the reason why nearly half the family members, flatmates or roommates also end up getting infected. There is also a high rate of transmission of colds in day care facilities and schools.

To lower your chances of getting infected:

·         Hand washing: Adults and children should wash their hands after nose wiping, using the bathroom, preparing food, eating, etc.
·         Keep your environment sterile – your priority should be to disinfect commonly touched surfaces such as door knobs, sink handles, sleeping matters, etc with an EPA approved disinfectant.
·         Stop the spread of germs by using instant had sanitizers.
·         Replace cloth towels with paper towels when using public facilities.
·         Drink plenty of fluid to keep your immune system working at the optimal level.
·         Consume a healthy diet with plenty of vitamins and minerals to optimize your immune health.
·         Avoid using antibiotics unless they are really needed.
·         Eat yogurts containing “active cultures” as they may help prevent the common cold.

Here are 10 interesting things about Common Cold

1. Its name is a misnomer
The thing about the common cold is that there’s nothing common about it, because it’s actually a collective term for more than 200 viruses that each have their own way of getting around the human body’s defenses. Since common cold symptoms can be caused by so many viruses, it has not been possible to develop a simple cure for the infection.
The common cold should not be mistaken for influenza, which can make you ill for much longer, has more severe symptoms, and can result in hospitalization or lead to serious health problems including pneumonia.

2. The “cold” part is a bit complicated
Scientists aren’t certain sure whether lower temperatures affect a virus’ pathogenicity, but they do know that the common cold spreads more easily in winter because we tend to spend more time indoors in closed quarters.

3. Colds dry out protective barriers
During wintertime, air tends to be drier, and this can lead to the protective mucus in our nasal cavities drying up when we breathe in. As a result, the body cannot do its job of catching potentially dangerous microbes before they reach our respiratory system. When you get a runny nose from a cold, it’s because your body is fighting back and trying to compensate for the dried up mucus.

4. Common colds are more common than we realize
While adults suffer an average of two to three colds per year, children can experience up to eight or perhaps even more. A survey conducted in the US in 2012 found that colds decreased productivity by 26%. Yet another survey found that colds cost the US economy some $25 billion per year. We do not have such authentic statistics from India so far.

5. Rest is the best cold medicine
Our bodies go into overdrive when we’re sick, doing their best to try and cure whichever ailment we may be suffering from. This means that just going about your daily routine as usual can have a negative impact on your health, and your brain. A study published in Brain, Behavior, and Immunity found that those with colds experienced poorer alertness, a negative mood, and psychomotor slowing. In other words, they experienced muddied thought processes and slower reaction times.

6. Don’t lie flat on your back when resting
Gravity can actually cause further congestion in your nasal passages, leading to it dripping down your throat, making it sore and causing you to cough. The best position to rest in when you have a cold is to prop yourself upright with pillows to reduce the cough receptor irritation by constant post nasal drip in the back of your throat.

7. A cost-free way of getting better quicker is…
A study conducted back in 2009 found that patients who had more empathetic doctors were sick one day less on average than those who did not. Patients with empathetic doctors were found to have double the levels of IL-8, which is a protein molecule that the body releases to fight colds.

8. Light exercise won’t go amiss
You obviously need to rest when you’re ill, but doing some light exercise can also help to boost your immune system. Regular exercise can help your body to fight back against germs. An explanation for this, according to the US National Library of Medicine, is that exercise helps to flush out germs from the lung and airways.

9. Vitamin C isn’t as effective at treating common colds as we think
Back in 2013, some 29 separate trials regarding vitamin C supplements failed to reduce incidences of colds. Huge doses did have small effects, but they were almost negligible.

10. Gargling a lot is good
A Japanese study found that participants who gargled regularly with water exhibited an almost 40% decrease in colds when compared to the control group. Try gargling with a quarter-teaspoon of salt mixed in with eight ounces of warm water.

So how should we treat Common Cold?
Although it is possible for you to improve the symptoms of common cold using a variety of medical therapies, they do not cure, shorten or prevent the illness. It is advised to try and keep onerself comfortable by get as much rest as possibly, drink lots of fluids and treat the symptoms. Some of the common ways to treat the symptoms of cold are:-
·         Gargle warm salt water to soothe sore throat
·         Inhaling steam with or without essential oils and herbal aromas can temporarily relieve nasal congestion
·         OTC remedies containing decongestants help relive congestion and stop secretions. They can also be used to stop cough if I is triggered by mucus in the throat.
·         Antihistamines are used to relive symptoms of watery eyes and runny nose.
·         According to some studies, zinc lozenges can shorten the duration of common cold symptoms.
·         Antibiotics should not be used to treat common cold and its symptoms.

Ayurveic Options:
·         The Clove Bud, nature’s cough drop
·         Tulsi (Basil), Turmeric and Ginger Tea for fever,
·         Ginger-Baking Soda Bath for body aches, chills, and fever
·         Ginger Juice for nausea
·         Turmeric, Salt and Cayenne Gargle for sore throat 


Healthy options include oatmeal, kitchari, homemade chicken soup, basmati rice, and chicken broth, etc. Avoid dairy, meat (broth is better!), all sugar except small amounts of honey, raw or cold foods, cold beverages, and all processed foods.