One of the abiding pleasures of travel is that it never ceases to surprise. And so it was in Sydney when on my way to catch a bus I heard a name that rung a bell -- Dave Sharma. It turned out to be a fascinating story of a recent trip that gave a glimpse into Australia's vaunted multiculturalism.
We were at a lodge which was a walking distance from the University of New South Wales (UNSW), our prime destination, that is becoming increasingly popular among Indian students seeking higher education. The mornings and afternoons were on the campus, which reflected a huge cultural diversity, and the evenings were for us to discover the city.
The exploration went quite perfectly for the first two days but the weather turned wet later and the iconic Bondi beach seemed a distant dream. But me and a friend were firm on not giving it a miss. We bought the Opal Cards (required for local travel) early in the morning on the penultimate day of our stay even as it was drizzling and boarded a bus after getting directions.
The beach -- a vast stretch of fine sand merging into the curling oceanic waves -- was swept by rain and wind by the time we reached there. Against the backdrop of the vast Pacific Ocean, a lonely runner was measuring his paces in the sand. Holding our umbrellas with great difficulty in the gushing wind, we took quick photographs and rushed back.
While going to the beach, I had heard two youngsters urging people at an intersection to vote for Dave Sharma. I took the pamphlets, amused that a man with an Indian surname was fighting election in Australia. Devanand Sharma, popularly known as Dave Sharma, I discovered later, was not fighting an ordinary by-election.
He was the ruling Liberal party candidate for Wentworth, a seat vacated by former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, following a rather bitter internal battle and the contest was being watched closely in the world capitals. He eventually lost, a result predicted earlier. But he also underlined the city's and country's plural ethic and open to people from different ethnicities and cultures.
The street where we stayed had an undulating terrain and the houses had a very neat look. The shopping area on Belmore Road, a few hundred yards away, had wide variety of food and offered massages and therapies from quite a few places, particularly Thailand. There was an Indian restaurant as well and the shops had people of various nationalities working in them.
We went quite a few times to Oporto -- a Portugese-themed fast-food restaurant -- for quality of its food as also warmth of its staff. It had Indian students working there on a part-time basis and it was interesting to know their stories and ambitions. The restaurant had a variety of burgers, wraps and snacks along with sides and dips on the menu.
The Sydney harbour cruise, which we undertook on the first day of our visit, was a memorable experience. Given that we were in the city for only a short period, it gave us a good glimpse of its landmarks. The cruise ship, with an open deck at the top, sailed gently and unravelled panoramic views all along its two-hour journey as it touched Opera House and Darling Harbour and went under the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
The cruise allows a good view of the Sydney Harbour Bridge -- the largest steel arch bridge in the world -- and the view from below it revealed the enormity and solidity of its construction. It was opened in 1932.
The on-board commentary on the cruise narrated the story of other landmarks, including the Royal Botanic Gardens, Garden Island Naval base, Government House, waterfront homes and Fort Denison.
We again visited Darling Harbour at night on the penultimate day of our stay to see it in its sparkling glory. It is a short walk from the central business district (CBD), which is a charming place with marvellous old and new buildings that combine work with leisure and shopping.
We did most of our shopping from Paddy's market near the CBD which has stalls selling a variety of wares including jewellery, souvenirs, accessories and dresses. The adjoining mall also had good bargains.
Sydney has an efficient transport system and the Opal Card can also be used on local trains. Among my firsts in Sydney was a visit to Ikea store but the experience of the city would have been less rich without that early morning dash to the Bondi beach.
(Prashant Sood was recently in Sydney at the invitation of UNSW. He can be contacted at email@example.com)
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