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Cracking the Crooks Code – Europe

Aren’t we all so mesmerized by the beauty of Europe – those picture perfect endless landscapes, those snow peaked Alps, the golden wheat fields, intricately carved monuments, beautiful buildings across eras of architecture, etc. Europe they say is a dream that keep returning for rest of our lives..

Well, just when we are all so awestruck, trying to soak it all in, here’s a dampener – Beware! There are forces down there, working FULL-TIME on lightning us of our possessions. Well guessed! Pick Pockets is what I’m talking about!

criminal-20clipart-clipart-panda-free-clipart-images-y424yg-clipartQuotes like “Travel is the only thing that makes you richer” or “World is a book, blah blah..” goes for a Royal Toss when hit by these forces!

In the last 5 years that I’ve been traveling around Europe, the number of attempts that have happened on me is unbelievable!! My colleagues have been teasing me saying that I look rich enough to be such a regular target. My take – I probably look like an absent-minded & a vulnerable fool, who can be easily robbed!

While I’ve been lucky enough for the longest period of time to not lose anything – call it some impulsive sense – I did finally lose it!

Yeah, they did eventually manage to get to me – Got Robbed (Checked)!

For an ‘expert’ (self-proclaimed) that I have been, guiding my passengers through ‘How NOT to get Looted’, two incidences, among many, really shook me up – one where I almost lost 1500 Euros & next when my backpack was taken away – Both in Rome!

Well, here are some narratives of the incidences that happened with me, which should hopefully give you some insight on the modus operandi of these crooks..

Drop Thing Distraction: Transiting from Rome Fiumicino Airport to Arezzo in Italy, I had to take a local train till Tiburtina – which is where disaster struck! I was to take over a new tour in East Europe, which was a first time destination to me. Occupied as I was, chatting up with my colleague, trying to get as many details as I can of the do’s & don’ts in the East, I guess those guys spotted me at my vulnerable best.

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I was seated in the aisle seat of the train, with my hand bag on seat next to me. I thought I saw a man walking up, who brushed against me and dropped some coins on the floor. Typically sensing that’s not something that happens frequently in Europe, I was trying to be all aware & mindful of my pockets, but yet apologetic & bent over to see where his coins fell. While the disgruntled man was trying to collect his coins, he realized that he needs to distract me further, cause apparently I wasn’t distracted enough and tapped me very hard on my foot – and that’s where he really got me! Assuming that I was probably stepping on some of his coins, I further bent down – this time trying to help him pick it up.

All of this happens in less than a minute & timed so very perfectly, when the train was just about to arrive at a station. The man had managed to retrieve his coins and got off at the station, leaving me wondering what exactly happened?? I knew I was scammed – but how, what?? Still trying to check my pockets to see if my passport, wallet & the card holder were in place. Just when the train was about to start & the doors had closed; I couldn’t feel my handbag under my elbows! That’s when I realized that my bag was taken away from right under my arm..

He had an accomplice who had picked my bag from the back seat, while I was all bent over, trying to help this guy retrieve his coins. They had timed it so perfectly & distracted me so well, that by the time I could raise an alarm, the train had already departed & there was no point chasing them. Co-passengers did confirm that they saw someone picking up the bag from the back seat, but they were so efficient that even they didn’t sense nothing wrong!

I think they were hoping to find a laptop in my bag, but thankfully there wasn’t any! The most prized possession that I lost in that bag was – A. My old tour receipts – which were to be presented as expense claims. B. My diary of notations – which was full of small travel notes, which I had made over 4 years & C. My personal little portable speaker, which was very dear to me for a perfect music that it delivered! Add to it some other things like chargers, battery packs, sunglasses, etc. – which just added to a whole lot of inconvenience, considering that I was still to travel for a couple of more months post then.

Anyways, if you are still with me till here, I’m guessing you want to hear about the other escapades too!

Grab & Engage in conversation: This time, I was in the city of Rome, walking around near the Colosseum. A group of Romanian gypsies walked straight up to me. I was still with a group of around 30-40 passengers, whom I was getting back to the coach.

indexOne of the Gypsy managed to grab me by arm & grabbed it so hard that no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t free myself! Having traveled in and around in Europe for so long, I knew that gypsies are bad news & they were trying to rob me – Distraction is a game that they normally play at! Just when I’d assumed that the only distraction that they were playing at was holding me by my arm and blabbering something which I couldn’t understand, there was another gypsy woman who was trying to be all touchy from behind! Men that we are, a woman pressing herself from behind sure is a major distraction. Good sense prevailed & I realized that I now need to be vary of two distractions – A. Trying to free my hand from the lady in front & B. Minding my wallet from the woman who’s pressing in from behind.

While all of this was happening – again in matter of seconds – there was a third lady in between with a cardboard in her hand, with something written on it. The third was the one who was actually planning to pick my pocket! Right in front of my eyes, but yet so invisible because of the distractions. The cardboard was pushed against my waist, under the arm which the first lady was holding up. And under the cardboard, her fingers were inside my pocket!

Amazing the way they had spotted a bulge of 1500 Euros in that pocket, even under my jacket. Thanks to a tiny little specs wipe that I’d just used and stuffed back in my pocket that she couldn’t get her fingers on my money. I felt her hand moving in my pocket, which is when I pushed the card board away & my money was saved. Funnily when all of this was happening I was still moving with my own group of passengers, some who saw this happening & still couldn’t stop it. Many even thought that these Gypsies were my friends and were chatting up with me (Duh huh!).

List of Others: And then off-course there were these other regular attempts in Paris, Brussels, Geneva (Yeah, you read that right – even in Geneva, which is considered to be a safe city) etc., where someone would come up-to you to chat up and distract saying things like – Ah! Bombayyy, Bollywood, Sharukh khan, etc. and put their hand on your pockets while you are all amused about how they know so much about India. One guy even tried engage me pretending to play Kabaddi, asking me to make those foot moves & while doing that – tried to pull out my wallet. That’s how much they know & prepare themselves to loot us up! They are smart, clever & at times even know how to follow someone on the internet.

01-12-07-paris-2-abp800-ant_1172.jpgMy list can go on-and-on with those gypsy girls @ Eiffel Tower asking you to sign some Child Relief petitions & then asking you to part off with some money or picking on your pockets while one is busy signing; TO passengers whose bags have been snatched away by riders, while getting off the bus; TO someone from my group whose bag disappeared from right under their arms, while they were busy posing for a photograph or at times even taking a photograph; TO an old man, posing as an Italian designer, trying to scam you buy a Versace Jacket for cheap or else asking you to part off with some money, etc.

 

Europe specially, with all the eastern migrants flocking towards the West, one needs to be extra careful. Robberies have started becoming rampant there – Even the well protected Kardashians or the Mallika Sherawats or the well-heeled Qatari sisters have been victims.

imagesThese are people who’ve come from crises torn countries, where they don’t have many opportunities and have migrated looking for greener pastures. Without any skill-sets whatsoever, they seldom find a job that can make them their monies. Robbing then becomes the easiest & the most essential source of making money.

The only hack that I can think of, which seems to have worked for me till date is – wearing a waist pouch / money belt under your clothes, which is where all the monies, cards, passports, etc. can be kept. Insides are where they definitely can’t reach!

Distractions, distractions & more distractions! That’s their modus operandi – and they seem to have mastered the art. Not just in Europe, but world over! So while we as tourist are so busy trying to make most of the monies that we’ve paid, let us all beware of these crooks trying to fleece us of our hard earns..

A Trip to Trip on : Corbett Tiger Reserve

I’ve always believed in the concept of Tripping with a Trip-Specialist & that belief was reconfirmed all over! Having heard many reviews from known people who’d visited Corbett that it’s a waste of a trip, with nearly no wildlife sightings whatsoever – but for me, somehow, I knew it would be much better this time – And that’s exactly how it was! Sightings Galore..

Company of some serious Naturalist, Wildlife Enthusiast & Photographers, is what made this trip really memorable.

Funnily, when with such serious enthusiasts, talks like – “woh Paarwali ajj kaal idhar bohot ghum rahi hai”, “Sonam kya sightings de rahi hai”, “Langdi ka coat dekhne jaisa hai”, “Pandit ne toh sabh ki le rakhi hai”, etc. means a whole different thing than what one would think.. Yeah, they are Tigers – Paarwali = uss paar se, Langdi = limping tigress, etc.

For 3 groups, in 3 Gypsies that we were, total sighting of 7 unique tigers – I understand is a count that can easily make most regulars Jealous!

Add to that excitements like Elephant charges, not just 1, but 2 & that too a significant charge around some 3 bends; A hunting party of Otters, who posed for pics & showed off their fish hunting skills just for us; An elusive Jungle Cat, who so casually crosses our road; 65+ birds with close view of Raptors like the Red-headed Vulture – also known as Asian King Vulture, Crested Serpent Eagle with a snake in its paws, Palas Fish Eagle gorging on its prey, Hawk Eagles, etc. A list of others like  – Kaleej Pheasant, Pied Kingfishers, Woodpeckers, Minivets, Hoopoes, Black Ringneck Parakeets, etc.

For me personally, my jinx of not spotting a Tiger in wild was finally broken – 3 is what I managed to see!!.. Hunting party of Otters was an Icing on the Cake & sightings of Asian King Vulture & the Crested Serpent Eagle with a snake in it claw made my day.

Photos will not do any justice to what we actually experience, but then, just for records – have attached them along.. As it turns out, technically, I’m such a poor photographer that I even blurred out an Elephant pic (Sigh!)..

1400 Sq. Km. of forest that it is, it’s been divided into 4 zones Dhikala, Bijrani, Jhirna & Durgadevi. While I guess other zones would be equally exciting, most of our stay was in Dhikala, which in my opinion was the best zone to be in. Secluded that it is from zones like Bijrani, which is where most tourists flocks. We were fortunate to get ourselves a reservation to stay in the Forest Rest House (FRH) – bang in the middle of the zone, with tiger territories barely 500 Mts away! Imagine the thought of Royal Bengals lurking just outside the fence – yes, we did hear quite a few Tiger calls in close proximity during the nights.

Safari’s used to start at 6.30 every morning & would go on till 11.00. Post a mandatory break of 2 hours, where the forest needs to be left empty, we would venture out at 1.00 PM to be back only by 5.30. Imagine the excitement of wandering around in the forest for 8 hours a day, at times in the freezing “foothills of the Himalaya” cold, in open Gypsies. Clean crisp air, beautiful golden sunlight, high levels of Oxygen, sight of densely wooded green-covers, panoramic view of golden grasslands, did not leave us tired at all. A back-breaking ride on an Elephant back did complete the experience, but never again – my back is still crying foul!

Having read Jim Corbett’s stories like the ‘Man Eater of Rudraprayag’, ‘Tigers of Kumaon’, etc., one can actually live through the narration of what the MAN would have experienced.

Thanks to Sushma @ Wild Paw Adventures & Pratham @ Tourpedia, the trip was meticulously planned. Nirav @ Woodtrackers too was a fantastic addition to the team. And off-course, without Aadil & his team of Drivers, none of this would’ve been possible

I almost couldn’t sleep the previous night before we departed – And the disappointment of wasting time transiting through Delhi was evident on all our faces. After reaching Delhi around noon, we spent a few hours being briefed about what’s to be expected on the tour. Later that evening, an overnight train from took us to Ramnagar, which is the closest railway station to Corbett. A snack break of some yummy Pokodas & chai is what set us up for the journey ahead.

Frozen to our bones in those open Gypsies, we reached the Dhikala gate. A quick stop at the Ram Ganga River, a tributary of Ganges, which cuts through the entire forest range for Birding, was a great beginning. Two hour ride through an amazing forest finally got us to the FRH – a typical & basic rest house that it is, offers some amazing meals – Veg only (forest zone restrictions). Shhh! Please don’t tell no one that I actually lived on things like Gobi Manchurian & Cauliflower-peas for around 4 days – but then it was surprisingly yummy..

The rest is something that stays etched in my memory for ever! I intend to make it my annual pilgrimage to visit the Corbett Tiger Reserve..

Going Going, Goa Diving..

  Diving season had just opened up, choppy waters were still settling down after a prolonged monsoon of 2016 – it was time to dive in! Waters were warm, so I decided to go in without a suit. All saddled up with BCD, Cylinder & the weights, it was time to let go… With all the air out of lungs & the BCD, I sank down into a whole new world, oblivious to all the happenings up there.

 

Just when I thought it’ll be yet another trip to Goa, which has always been about Beach, Beer & Sea Food with Family, I decided to re-jig one of my old passion – Diving!

 

Those Orange Corals, a colourful underwater ecosystem growing at a depth of around 5Mts, provides a shelter to a whole world of things underwater – Sea creatures like the Urchins, Cucumbers, White Jelly Fishes, Crabs, Shrimps were all either lazing around or gliding past me aimlessly – wondering who this silly looking creature making big bubbles was…  A home to some 18 different varieties of fishes, including Parrot Fish, Butterfly Fish, Damselfish, etc. was a soothing site to see.

 

Yes, surprise for many, but Goa does offer some nice sites for SCUBA diving – Most of them around the Saint Georges Island, near Bogmalo. Popular sections to dive around are : Suzy’s Wreck – A ship wreck dating back to the WW-II, Coral Garden, Shelter Cove, Sail Rock, etc.

 

Considering the limitation of time, and the budget off course, I decided to take up just 1 dive & that was at Shelter Cove.

 

Down there, getting all over-adventurous, despite warnings from my dive master to stay paired-up, I kept scampering all over the corals. A quick and an abrupt nudge on my fins, with a firm signal asking to stay paired was the only thing that would wake me from my near meditative experience down-under.   45 minutes zipped past & it was time to surface up. Temptations were to never get out of there & dive back in to explore little more, but then some things needs to left to come back the next time.

 

For a PADI certified Advance Open Water Diver, I had hit the depths after a gap of around 4 years. And there was Gary, my dive master who’d trained me through all levels of certifications, from GoaDiving, who made the whole thing so much easier for me. Something about this man always inspires oodles of confidence in you..

 

Little drained, but extremely high on spirits, I decided to head back to the shore. The spirits were so high that the last few hundred meters, I couldn’t resist but jump into the sea & swim back to the shore – it was yet another nostalgic feeling of touching down those shores after a crazy 15 & 26 hour endurance swims in the open seas. That was decades back and I plan to write about it someday.

 

The ship wreck is something I have always wanted to see since long time now. With a promise from Gary that he’ll try and take me diving around the wreck next time, it was time to part off.

 

Till next time, I’m also hoping that Netrani Islands around the Karnataka-Goa borders too would open up – Cant wait to explore marine life which includes some of the biggest whales like the Humpbacks, Killer Whales & even the Whale Sharks who swim past in the strong currents of Arabian Seas.

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