Saturday, January 14, 2017

On the Road to Grand Canyon

Those seemingly never ending roads!
Fast paced cars fade away and so do the busy roads of the city of Angels and the sun. Rains lash the view pane of the car while the sparsely green land turns barren and dusty yet stunning. Vast plains fringed with barren hills keep you company for what seems like eternity even at a car going at crazy speeds. Sun and rain keep up their play, while winds race with the few but very fast cars on the road. On and off the route 66 and then you see that shiny little city that is famous for, well so many reasons – you are in Vegas Baby!

Awaiting rains
That was a part of an epic road trip I had a couple of weeks back! Oh, yes a part – Vegas was just a pit stop the journey went on to Antelope Canyon, Glenn Canyon and South Rim Grand Canyon! 

Some sunrises can't really be described
I had a huge list of to dos in my Bucket list when I came to the US, but grad life let me explore only Seattle until late December, and then this fateful work group reunion with six amazing wanderlust souls happened in Los Angeles. With approximately 1500 miles to cover, I was on my way to get some green ticks on my list –

Somewhere in the mountains
Road Trip on Route 66 – Well we didn’t really do the whole east coast to west coast trip but we were on Route 66 for most of our trip and also explored the Calico Ghost Town Road on our way to Vegas.

Vegas Strip – Luxury maybe overrated, but sometimes it leaves you happy and stunned!

Antelope Canyon - that narrow ridge of earthly colours and dancing sunbeams, yes I was finally there!

Horseshoe Bend – That iconic Colorado river meander that has been feeding on the old Rockies since Paleolithic age. Still can’t get over that view and that place!

And of course Grand Canyon – There is a reason why it is called Grand, and what I saw was merely 5% of its natural grandeur.

I was excited about these places for obvious reasons, but I was elated like a kid when we touched four states of the US in four days, (it was a big thing for all of us!)

To add to all that, this was actually my first experience of a drive in the US and I literally saw every kind of weather there is – I think! From warm winter sun in Los Angeles to unusual lashing desert rain, sun on snow early morning, foggy days, clear starlit nights and heavy snowfall preceding a snow storm! I was not the one behind the wheel, but I could feel the thrill and fear of driving through a foggy dark night with occasional sleet rainfall through Canyon Roads – you get the point right?

When rain and snow attack alternatively and make way for fog
I don’t usually write about the whole journey without writing about the place, but for me this was one such trip, after my Mumbai Goa road trip in India, that just turned out to be about the journey as much as that about the destination, if not more! Hence this was like a mandatory prelude to the chain of posts coming up about the places! More about the trip coming up soon.

Yeah, well.
P.S. The Route (Just for reference)

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Beachy Road Trip to Goa

Somewhere on our way
Early morning, loudspeakers playing songs like ‘Rang Barse’, in an attempt to wake up a languid world for the festival of colours, and atmosphere waiting to be painted in hues of gulaal – and amidst all that I set out for my epic road trip to Goa with my family and some friends! Epic because it was the first road trip to Goa and we were doing a coastal Maharashtra to Goa and back route aka old Goa route and the plan was totally out of the blue and I planned out the itinerary in just 2 days. I often talk about this trip of mine but yesterday when I was writing about my recent trip to Grand Canyon, I realized I had never written about my first ever road trip on my blog. So here it is! (I’m chronicling my road trip adventure for CEAT Tyres in association with BlogAdda.)

Kashid Beach
Crossing Alibaug, Nagaon, Janjira, Kashid, Ganpatipule, and Ratnagiri we did manage to reach Panjim somehow in 4 days, of course halting at all those places, but the best part of the trip was being on the road and exploring, and not Goa as the destination. 

Murud Janjira Fort
Howling coastal winds, constant company for sapphire blue waters, forests, starlit nights – all of it simple yet so impactful. We chose the old Konkan way over the Bombay Goa Highway and didn't regret the decision a bit. This journey made me realize how beautiful the Konkan coastline is.

A random click from the road!
Often Indian highways are termed not cool for long, smooth road trips, and driving on old highway might seem like a crazy decision – but I beg to differ! Maybe the roads in India are not as maintained, monitored and regulated as highways in most developed countries, but they are good for any fun road trip and this trip made me believe in that thought even more.

The beautiful untouched Malgund Beach
While on the road we witnessed nature, history and culture equally, baffled by the thought – why do people not select the meandering roads accompanied by pristine blue waters fenced by dense coconut grooves and rolling paddy fields. 

Nagaon Beach!
While Alibaug, Murud and Jaigad on the way have marvelous forts from the Maratha Period, missing out on hidden gems like Ganpatipule beach and Malgund Beach with their seemingly infinite stretch of light golden sand shimmering against the crystal blue waters seemed like a crime to me!

Somewhere in Ratnagiri
Yes, Calangute, Baga, Anjuna and the hundreds of other beaches of Goa have their own charm, but none of them are as clean, quiet and untouched like the ones near Ganpatipule and Ratnagiri. But forget the beaches that were some ‘spots’! During the drive there were probably uncountable beach stretches or cliffs where the Arabian Ocean proclaimed its beauty and why it makes Konkan Coast so amazing! We drove in the early morning warmth on meandering hilly roads and late night on Ghats and under a very starry night and I enjoyed every bit of it!

When the path is so beautiful, you drive with a smile :P
Some experiences are beyond words, and this sure was one of them. Guess spending days on the road does that to you. Guess that is why people love road trips more than travelling by trains and planes and now so do I!

Finally the destination
The Road

Some things to remember

1.   Remember to keep your mobile fully charged and carry power bank for maps of course! And before you start your drive for following destinations keep your fuel tanks filled, check your spare tyre(s) and toolbox – not just as a part of basic highway safety measure but also important since you would be travelling on a path less taken and cross some rural or non-populated areas.
2.  For the Ghats, make sure your car tyres are meant for such trips and also do not try to overtake or cross speed limits – it is for the good of everyone on road! Hint - think of CEAT Tyres or its equivalents.
3.  Beware of tankers and heavy vehicles! Keep at least at a space for 2 cars between you and the vehicle ahead of you while at high speeds. This road is highly curvy so the distance will give you better control and help avoid mishaps.
4.  No drink and drive! I get why Goa is so famous among youngsters but hey, drinking and driving is a fatal crime and a total no no.

And of course enjoy the drive!

P.S. Just the recap of the places I went to

Friday, December 16, 2016

Winter Wish Well – Kashmir

White washed, painted with numerous shades of cold blue and white, beauty of bareness and dead grooves that would bloom again in spring and still a land alive in every sense. Some days back it snowed in Seattle and I was transported back to a beautiful state of India. If you thought Spring or Autumns are the only time to visit the cold Himalayan beauty of India again, think again for now I would give you five reasons to make you believe why you have to visit Kashmir during winters at least once in your life!

1.   The white wonderland
Kashmir is better than Switzerland during winters. To experience snow that has fallen months ago and to experience snowfall – the feel is really different. Imagine making snowman in fresh snow, fall and create deep snow angels in soft, yet to settle, fluffy snow, to gaze outside your window and see the snow pile on vast fields, pined trees and your window sills while sitting with a hot cup of Kehwa and hot burning Kangri – the only time to get all this is during winters! Even the other areas that do not have snow, have a backdrop of white washed Himalayas and a shade of winter that is stunning in every sense.

2.  No crowd, No fuss
Since due to common belief, winters is termed off season for Kashmir Tourism and hence all the places you venture to would have very less crowd aka welcome to a non-touristy Kashmir. This means you get heavy discounts on almost everything there and at the same time get to interact with locals as much as you want because people are not in any hurry to attend to hordes of tourists that they usually do during the other times of the year.

Source -

3.  Enjoy food the Kashmiri way
Local food around Srinagar get a lot more Kashmiri during winters than in any other season. It is not like you can’t get local delicacies during the other seasons but during winters the street food gets more local flavoured and lets go of the Punjabi, Lucknowi touch and well imagine hot kebabs on chilled winter nights. You get the fun right?

4.  Ski and Sledge
Let’s go the eskimo way. Okay, no, but just the touristy way. Sure in other seasons you get the orchards of apricots, you may see arrays of Tulips and Saffron, you may also see sprawling fields of paddy and grass but winter is the only time you would see endless rows of snow laden slopes that are fit for skiing and sledge rides. Why travel all the way to Switzerland, Alaska and Austria when you can get it all in your own country!

5.  Kehwa and Kangri
I love to do local stuff!!!  I know you guys must have figured that out already but still I love doing local stuff and one of the best moments I had in Kashmir during my trip was – roaming around near Sindh Nallah in Sonmarg with a kangri in hands and sipping Kehwa all the while. You can get Kehwa in Kashmir all-round the year but it is primarily a winter drink. Long story short, I was doing what the local villagers of Sonmarg were doing at the Sonmarg bus stop and I totally got the point of it.

Winter is when Kashmir gets the most real and the warmest in terms of hospitality! I loved Kashmir in winters and feel lucky to have experienced the place in that season! What about you guys?

Also for those of you who are anxious about the conditions in Kashmir right now – life has kind of come back to normalcy but locals need a lot of support and positivity to forget the last five months. From personal experience, I can tell you people over there are really nice and kind and a few friends who traveled there recently have confirmed that it is pretty safe to travel to Kashmir now.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Winterfest at Seattle Center

Current entrance to Seattle Center
April 21st 1962
A huge tower topped with a flying saucer look alike observation deck. A couple of huge halls close by. A set of huge white arched structure act as gate to future. A huge ground full of people, 200 at first, 20,000 eventually and at a point some 2M people had shown glimpse of greatness that was paving way for some amazing stories to come. Musical notes with splashes of water dance to tunes of success and achievement. A fast train whizzes by all this, ready to transport people to a new era of technology and globalization.

The International Fountain and the Space Needle
Fast forward to 8th December 2016
The huge flying saucer, called the Space needle is the pride of Seattle and the symbol of this beautiful city. The white arched gates still stand but are gates to IMAX and the science center. The huge fountain, called the international fountain, still plays music from different parts of the world and makes water and people dance to those tunes every day. The fast train now has company of music thanks to EMP museum or MoPop – Museum of Pop Culture. The big field now has more halls than ever, most dedicated to art and craft and some to recreation. But what still hasn’t changed is what this place stands for – people!
Seattle Center Park Way
This amazing place is Seattle Center!!!
Started in 1962, for Seattle’s World Fair – Century 21 Exposition, Seattle Center not only entered the 21st century 38 years in advance and in full glory, it has only thrived and become more about people over the years. If you check Seattle Center’s website it says – ‘Seattle Center creates exceptional events, experiences and environments that delight and inspire the human spirit to build stronger communities’ just like it did when it was opened to public for the first time in 1962. And after being in the campus 3 times now, I can totally vouch for the authenticity of their claim.

It is all about holiday spirit!
Ever since I started writing about Seattle on my blog, people have asked me why I haven’t written about main tourist areas of Seattle, and I always thought when I did start writing about touristy places in Seattle I would start with Seattle Center, but had not found the right opportunity yet. Thanks to the ongoing Winterfest in Seattle Center, here I am and I would tell you all about why you should visit Seattle Center and not miss Winterfest if in Seattle during December.

Winterfest is celebration of holiday season at Seattle Center, that starts just after thanksgiving and goes on till new year’s every year. I attended Winterfest this year on Black Friday and I do not regret letting go of shopping for some hours to be part of community and the holiday spirit for a few of hours. Winterfest has an ice rink for ice skating that I saw kids and adults enjoy equally. Many who didn’t know how to skate also didn’t mind spending the 8$ for falling, getting up and making memories with their friends and family.

Ice Rink
The train station was just the prettiest art display at the armoury. Tiny train, plane, hot air balloon. Some dancing damsel, a happy man skating over a frozen lake. Some children playing in snow, some people enjoying just nature. Festivities, music, and daily life – the train station display had it all and it just felt so real at time, maybe because of the whole holiday decoration of the armoury or maybe because of the carols being performed in the background.

Train Station Village
There are many musical and dance performances lined up every day at the armoury for the whole day, most troupes local to Seattle. Seattle is known as the city of performing arts and Seattle Centre Winterfest gives a chance to local groups to shine and display their art. 

When I visited Seattle Center, I was reminded of my childhood thanks to the tons of Christmas Carols performed by Snow Globe - Kristin Chambers and Puget Sound Acapella Choir.

Train Station Village
Apart from performing arts, display art is also huge in Seattle and at Winterfest, ice sculpting that happens every Saturday for the whole month is pretty huge! Sadly, I went there on a Friday and hence could not see the sculptures. But I did get to spend a lot of time at the International Fountain and I loved every minute of it. You can actually go down and drench and dance under this huge fountain! 

Holiday, snow and music
I did go round and dodged some water sprout due to the super cold weather but there were kids who were getting drenched even in this weather! But anyhow listening to Arabian and Russian music and watching the 20 or so water sprouts synchronizing with the music was kind of soothing – something that took me away from studies and stress of the upcoming finals week of my college. And street performances near this fountain just redefined ‘Seattle meets world at Seattle Center.’
Last Autumn Shades
Well long story when in Seattle, do go to Seattle Center; not just to Space Needle, the Chihuly Glass Museum and EMP but to Seattle Center as a whole! And if in Seattle during December – Get the feel of Seattle, Holidays and Winters all in one place! To know more about Winterfest check here -

The huge Christmas tree at armoury! 
P.S.: I would be telling you more about different places at Seattle Center in separate posts.

A snowy happy Holidays to all!!!

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Just That - New York, New York

Welcome to the CITY!
After quite a long time - I finally have another guest writer on the blog today!
I love featuring guests posts that are raw, frank and have different perspectives of places or travel. Last time my guest writer told us about a trek that finally made him confident about about solo travels. This time I have a writer who saw New York beyond the obvious by actually visiting the obvious 'New Yorker' Places! Something funny, something amazing, something not cool - here is a raw take on New York by a new guy in the town intending to give a lot of first timer tips and links to people visiting the city!

Guess where in New York?
Guest Post By - Kafkaesque

If ever there was a better time or an ironic time to write about New York (Trump’s home state where he lives in golden luxury in the middle of 5th Avenue), I couldn’t find it. I was in the Red Apple for about 3 months for an internship and I wasted no time in exploring the city. 

City of Skyscrapers right?
It was as close to a homecoming as possible with New York’s fabled subways, the breakneck pace at which people go nowhere to; reminding me of Mumbai every alternating second. I got to do a lot of things which a “proper New Yorker” gets to do. The day immediately after I landed, I visited the Frick’s Museum for a book signing by one of my favourite authors: Julian Barnes. 

Frick's Museum
Cue *high-pitched fan-girl shriek* The museum, among one of the better ones among museums, houses rare art collections of the late industrialist Henry Frick and other educational events. The tranquility of this place is beyond compare; and I saw artists trying to recreate what Rembrandt, Bellini, Goya, Vermeer, etc. had created decades back. (If anyone is truly interested in painting forms, you should check out this movie reliving Vermeer’s unique way of painting)

Statue of Liberty! Not really that exciting.
The following day, I went to the Statue of Liberty (you should buy tickets in advance here) and the Ellis Island. With the amount of history seeped into these two places, it’d be a dream for a history buff and a soporific slumbering trip for one who is not. (I fall in the latter category) This trip takes about an entire day.

Bits from MET

Not London Bridge
Among the free and cheap things you can do in the following days; there is the Brooklyn Bridge (best visited at night; better yet during 4th of July fireworks), Bryant Park, Central Park, Central Park Zoo, George Washington Bridge (only if you’re driving through it), the NY Public Library (skip this one if you don’t get time; it is on the opposite end of the city), the NY skyline from the Hudson Waterfront (Riverside Drive) at New Jersey; and *drum-roll* The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 

One of the best views of the city for free!
Don’t miss the Met, at any cost, even if it is the only thing you do. It’s quantifiably the best kept museums from around the world and entrance fees are paltry (you can pay a minimum token amount of 1$ to get in) There are a few things you shouldn’t miss at the Met. 

The ever busy Times Square
Times Square is a passing phase; the same way non-Mumbaiites get bent out of shape about the Victoria Terminus. See it once, you have seen it all; but you’ll still love the electric energy when you walk through the place. Among the other free things; you can catch Stephen Colbert and John Oliver; both of whom host their Tonight Shows from the middle of NYC. (Free tickets here and here respectively) 

That is just a small not very expensive Broadway Show Set - Phantom of the Opera
John Oliver’s tickets are notoriously difficult to procure (a friend of mine reportedly tried every week for 6 months and she still couldn’t get it) Among the more expensive and artsy things to do in NYC; there are Broadway plays (I have seen 3 : “Wicked” – Amazing, “An American In Paris” – so-so, and “The Phantom of the Opera” – a well-its-the-longest-running-Broadway-show-so-you-have-to-watch-it kind of show) Front row tickets are crazy expensive (goes from 200$ to a long running show to a reported sum of 30,000$ for Hamilton’s last show) but oh well, where would we be without online lotteries. If you have to catch at least one show, make it “The Book of Mormon” or “Wicked”. Thank me later. 

Heights and Lights
Among the other expensive things that fall in the you-have-to-do-if-you-are-visiting-NYC-for-the-first-time feeling  are the Rockefeller Center “Top of the Rock” view (32$ here)

I loved MET more than anything!

Phew. That was a lot of information in a single breath. I hope you enjoy your stay in NYC as much as I did.

You know where now.

PS: If you have more time to explore the east coast, I suggest visiting Washington DC and Pennsylvania for its history; Atlantic City for its casinos and other things (*ahem*) and Boston for the suburban hip life. (all places are within driving distance) 

No New York trip can be complete without the New York Cheesecake! 
Do not miss Junior’s cheesecake (their traditional NY Cheesecake is yum) and their Red Velvet is second only to Cheesecake Factory’s. Also, keep your eyes open when you walk through Broadway and Times Square. There are a lot of art demos and live shows happening. See this.