London

Having come across several central heating installations in Kashmir, I fail to understand why we still need a pheran and a jumper with all that money spent on such systems. May be the difference lies in our windows not being double glazed.
On and off, I have spent a lot of time in England since teenage. The place never ceases to amaze me. However, you do not notice a much change coming from Delhi. You notice the change on your return. London airport and the road that leads to the city do not appear as hip as those found in other developed countries. The ride from Heathrow towards London city center is neither scenic nor impressive. It is rather ordinary.
Those apartment buildings and small houses do not look appealing. Each stretch of residential colony in the UK has a uniform architectural design. For some that looks cool. For me it looks too institutional and socialistic. I prefer big houses and varied designs found back home in Kashmir. Most furniture in English homes nowadays is made of artificial wood which is a turn off. Wood is in use but I would say less prominently. I guess those Chinese prices are too tempting now. The artificial wood is used not only for cupboards but for doors and windows too. This trend is yet to catch on in Kashmir but I suppose the use of artificial wood nicely complements the concept of double glazing. A typical picture of an average English house: small, genuinely comfortable, and lately genuinely practical in terms of furniture and fittings.
The public places are dominated by heritage up to your neck. Each little stretch of central London – and many other cities/townships – are a piece of history. It is like each lump of concrete, each little building, each little castle has a story to tell. Whether you are a literature freak, or a history freak or a science freak – whatever you might be, there is a treat waiting for you everywhere in London. One minute you will be sitting in a library on the same chair where Darwin sat, next you will be walking down a lane and find a board that says ‘Charles Dickens Lived Here’ and the next you will be circling a college that has produced 50 heads of commonwealth states and six Nobel Prize winners. It is an awesome feeling!
There are various tourist traps in London though, places like museums where they charge you arm and a leg to get inside.
London is the second most visited city in the world after Paris. I would suggest just take a walk. Walk along Thames. Go through the old interiors, the alleys, the bylanes etc. That is what I do when I visit a historic city. A city tour atop that double-decker is nice, so is the boat ride through Thames. You will get to know all the famous places and their names.
London is very cosmopolitan. Hundreds of languages are spoken in the city. It is much more cosmopolitan than New York. If you speak Urdu/Hindi I bet you will survive in the city. That goes for other languages as well: such as Spanish, French, and even Arabic. There are Arab quarters around a place called Notting Hill. There is a large Indian population in Southall. Bengalis thrive in East End of London while Pakistanis roam around in Walthamstow. There is a nice little China town behind Leicester square.
You always get by in this country easily. The language that is such a pain in other countries is hardly a problem here. I make a couple of routine trips to China each year. I hardly ever roam around without written Chinese names of my hotel, street, places, phone numbers etc. It is sometimes a nightmare. If you are travelling for the first time, my suggestion is to travel to a country whose language you can, at least, understand. It will make your stay much more pleasant!
With a cosmopolitan culture comes a diverse cuisine. British people are crazy about Indian curries. And surprisingly Indian food is supposed to be more upmarket than, say, Chinese cuisine. The best ‘Indian’ food I have taken in my life happens to be at a Pakistani restaurant called Lahori in Southall, London. Isn’t it ironical that I discovered the best Indian food in London?
British are terrible at making food but they are great at portable and mobile food. Whether it is the Fish and Chips or Sandwich, the British cuisine that has emerged over the last two millennia, has a strong mobility characteristic.
Moving on from outings, heritage and food items, perhaps the other activities you would indulge in would be entertainment, especially home entertainment. This is especially so during the winter months where you are up against a gloomy weather outside. Internet is super fast. The speed is awesome even with low end subscription rates of equivalent to Indian Rs500 per month. In comparison, what we get in the name of internet in Kashmir is garbage. So the Internet based entertainment rocks. However when it comes to TV, India rocks. The sheer number  of channels and choice we have in Kashmir is something that people can only dream of in England. To watch a couple of lousy channels, you have to shell out subscription fees of up to Rs. 700 (equivalent) per channel in England. That is right, per channel. It is simply ridiculous. But the faithful homesick NRI dutifully pay to watch channels like Star TV and Zee.
If shopping also falls under your entertainment agenda, there are interesting shopping deals in London. Certain inexpensive stores like Primark in London offer good quality clothing at cheaper prices compared to India. Even upmarket stores like Marks & Spencer offer prices that can beat those in Gurgoan. Forget Dubai. I would definitely go to London for shopping if the ticket is cheap.
Meanwhile, the country had put its prime minister in the dock. A panel of judges was grinding Gordon Brown, and Tony Blair and all the politicians for the justifications of Iraqi invasion. These are some of the things that helped develop my crush on this country. This country puts its prime minister in the dock, slaps his wrists and asks him why the hell he made the mistake of invading Iraq. Well that is true democracy. Nobody is above the law!
For those who disagree with my last observation let me mention that the local government was organising an exhibition, celebrating and demonstrating Islamic inventions of the medieval ages. You need to ask how often that happens in Muslim countries. And let me tell you English people propagating the need to acknowledge the contribution of Muslim scientists needs to be applauded.

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