Canyons of Utah: Zion and Bryce

Posted November 15th, 2006 by Deepa and filed in Travel
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Seejo and I had simultaneous trips to the west coast for different conferences, Seejo to Las Vegas and me to San Diego . Since we both were already on the west-coast, I decided to stop over at Las Vegas and work from there for a week.

The last time I was in Vegas, I was a student & I absolutely loved the glitz and glamour…the excitement had paled this time around. Another disappointing sign that I was growing old!! But growing old had some advantages one of which was having some more money to spend than a grad student. And we spent it in the noble cause of propitiating our taste-buds. Vegas is the home of wonderful buffets, spreads that put ordinary buffets to shame, everyday and special dishes from several cuisines around the world. The Spice Buffet at Alladin, the salad spread at Luxor and Mandalay Bay and the wonderful crepes at the Paris made the trip worthwhile. The other highlight of the trip was seeing the Cirque du Soleil Show –‘O’. It was a fantastic performance, but the highlight was the stage that turned from a huge water tank to solid ground in seconds. The performance was excellent, a wonderful display of acrobatic skills. Most of the time I couldn’t believe that I was seeing real people do these stunts without the aid of special effects.

IMG_0997But despite these breaks, I spent most of my time in a stuffy hotel room wrestling with problems relating to work. So it was a great relief to get out in the open that weekend. The canyons at Bryce and Zion were just what the doctor recommended. To a person from the east coast, used to the gently sloping green hills and miles of greenery, the stark rocky landscape of the west had a different kind of beauty. The Bryce Canyon at Utah , is a giant amphitheater with amazing hoodoos –almost sculpted rocks formed by a unique combination of the type of rocks and the kind of wind erosion. The sunrise at Bryce was a spectacular sight as the sunlight lit the hoodoos with different light creating a multi colored wonderland. Some of the less strenuous hiking trails bring you close to these formations, some of them look like sentries guarding the huge canyon.

Inspite of the wonderful formations of Bryce, it was the sheer size of the Zion Canyons which left the most lasting impression during this trip. When we reached our bed & breakfast it was too dark to really appreciate the beauty ofIMG_0273 the mountains. But my first glimpse of the mountains , the next day morning simply blew me away. The small town where we stayed was at the foothills of the mountains, nestled between gigantic mountains on all sides, it seemed like we could walk over and touch the mountain on all four sides. The classic feature of the Zion mountains are the narrows or slot canyons: where the canyons between mountains are so narrow that at some point they are less than 20 feet apart. We did not really hike upto this point, but what we saw during our other hikes was impressive enough. It was peak fall in the canyons, the day was clear, the mountains were massive and the view stunning. The pictures and descriptions really don’t do justice to the beauty of these red rocks and the fun that we had.

State of Maine

Posted October 5th, 2006 by Deepa and filed in Travel
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There is a joke about the Indian diaspora’s tendency to settle in all parts of the world that goes somewhat this way:

Question: Where is the one place where you won’t find Indians?

Answer: Heaven.

By this definition or by any other definition, Maine qualifies as “ heaven ” on earth. Seejo and I along made a 4 day trip along with my mother to Maine in the last weekend of September. The agenda was to relax, view the fall colors and see the beautiful Atlantic coastline and sample the famous Maine lobsters.

A little geography about Maine : Maine is the north eastern most state of the United States , bordered by the Atlantic Ocean on the east and south. With a population of a little more than a million people, it is one of least densely populated state in United States . Maine ’s population is concentrated around the southern cities of Portland , Bangor and Augusta , most of northern Maine is still largely unpopulated forest land. The popular tourist attraction in Maine is the Acadia National Park , with its view of the rugged coastline dotted with tiny island, mountains, ponds and even a fjord. Acadia is primarily an island located on southeast corner of Maine , and is the only national Park in the north eastern United States .

As we drove up to Acadia National Park from New Hampshire airport, the trees on either side ofthe road were just turning colors from a solid green to reds, yellows and purples. Before heading to our first destination, the Bass Harbor lighthouse we drove around the Southwest Harbor area, enjoying the beauty of blue skies reflected in even bluer waters of the inland lakes, framed by the colorful fall landscape. We had an impromptu picnic lunch on the banks of the echo Lake , with nobody other than some sea-gulls and the picture-postcard scenery for company. We did stop briefly at Somes Sound , supposedly the only fjord in United states, I was really eager to actually see how the glaciers have carved the land into little crinkly folds but was in for a disappointment, this was no delicate folds but appeared like a sort of small bay. Definitely not something I would give a prize for, perhaps the guy who did Norway performed better than this!!

IMG_1095The Bass-Harbor light house also did its part in being contrary to my expectations. Lighthouses in my imagination were tall majestic structures standing precariously on islands with huge waves lashing the doorsteps. The Bass harbor light head with its red blinking head light was actually sort of short and stout and quite easy to reach! The easy access to it was perhaps the reason that it is supposedly the most photographed lighthouse in United States . Seejo did his part in making sure that it maintained its numero uno position by clicking several photographs.

Early next morning we set off to the Cadillac Mountain within Acadia National Park to enjoy the sunrise so that Seejo could indulge in some early morning photography. The Cadillac mountain is made up of pink granite rocks and is tallest mountain in the Eastern United States and consequently the first point to get the sun-rays in United states . Covered in gloves, caps, mufflers, sweaters and coats we braved the sub-zero temperatures in an effort to see the sunrise, unfortunately, the early morning mist obscured our view and we could barely see less than a meter ahead.

The day was spent in exploring Acadia National Park., driving along the Park loop road, & stopping at the variousIMG_1333points of interest such as Sands beach (the only sandy beach in Acadia), the Otter Cliff & Cove (incredible views of the Atlantic ocean) and the Thunder hole (so called because of the noise that is caused when the incoming wave pushes the water out of a rocky inlet is like a thunder clap). We had lunch watching the reflection of the two rounded peaks of the Bubble Mountains in the still blue waters of the Jordan Pond.

We headed out again to the Cadillac Mountain to try our luck again at seeing the view on the top of the mountain. Luck did not favor us this time either, the winding way up was certainly beautiful with a spectacular sea view on either side but on the top the view was limited due to a dense layer of fog. We were already halfway down when we saw the fog clearing, we made a mad dash back to the top of the mountain. It was well worth the effort. Three times proved a charm, from the top of the pink granite mountain top, we could see the ocean all around us. On one side several tiny islands dotted the landscape, almost as though someone had carefully placed inverted coconut shells into water which was colored bright blue. Puffy clouds floated below us almost providing a personal shade to each of these tiny islands and miniature boats were playing hide and seek amongst the islands. The view from the other side of the mountain was just as breathtaking, the mists were swirling gracefully providing tantalizing glimpses of the mountainside just turning into a riot of fall colors and sloping gently towards the blue waters of the Atlantic ocean .

Patting ourselves on the back for our perseverance, we headed off to a magnificent lobster dinner. Lobster soup, lobster salad and lobster pasta formed Seejo’s and my dinner while Amma painfully chewed on some plain pasta in tomato sauce. We set off to our bed & breakfast inn at the Schoodic Peninsula for the night and the next day. Oceanside Inn owned by a second generation Tamilian and her husband was a beautiful inn near the beach. Although quite expensive, it had beautiful scenery around the inn and wonderful vegetarian breakfasts (have you had melon soup garnished with edible flowers? , it tasted loads better than it sounds, I promise) which sort of made up for the exorbitant cost.

The next day was unfortunately rainy but we had promised ourselves that we would take it easy. I spent a good part of the morning sitting on the porch listening to the sea waves breaking over the island reading a good old fashioned romance and smelling the wonderful smell that is present when the rain hits wet soil. As the rain cleared, Seejo spent some time, taking some wonderful photographs of the fresh scenery and flowers that surrounded the inn. The day was spent lazily, we visited some local artisans that created some beautiful dishes, purchased some of them as souvenirs, went wine tasting at a local winery with decent fruit wines, and went inland searching for the beautiful fall colors that give New England its fame. A tiny pathway off the main road was suggested to us by our hosts as the spot that had peak fall colors. We feasted our eyes on red, pink, yellow & purple leaves : a truly incredible sight which made Amma’s first fall experience an unforgettable one. We rounded off the day in style by watching the sunset off the Schoodic Point.

The next day was our last day in Maine , we started off with a morning walk on the beach in front of our B&B. But then it was good bye as we started our drive to Boston . There were two important stops along the way. We decided not to take the inter-state main roads but drove along Route 1, the Atlantic coast across tiny picturesque towns on the sea, this was truly one of the most scenic drives that the United States has to offer. We made a brief but delightful stop at Camden Hills State Park . I was initially reluctant to stop here, after viewing the Atlantic for the past three days, at various times of the day, how different could yet another view point be. But I was to be proved absolutely wrong by the view from top of Mount . Megunticook, the highest point of the Camden Hills State Park . Words cannot do adequate justice to this panaromic view of the tiny coastal villages seen from the mountain. We sat for a long time, admiring the view till it was time to head south to Boston . Since we started the tour of Maine with a light-house it was only fitting that we end it up with one too this time the lighthouse at Portland , Maine . This light house was indeed tall & majestic, was painted pristine white and stood proudly on rocky ledge and redeemed my faith in light-houses. Framed by the sea and sky, it is an inspiring sight, no wonder that Longfellow who was a frequent visitor to this lighthouse, penned the poem “Lighthouse” using this as his muse. Truly a fitting scenery as the last glimpse of Maine .

We headed off to Boston soon, we were invited for dinner at Seejo’s old school friends place. We had not seen an Indian face for the past 4 days, making it the only vacation spot that I had been to without seeing a single Indian around. We did make a quick stop-over in rainy Boston , where we quickly made up for the absence of Indians. But Boston is another story….

Photos here.

Munnabhai, Chanakya and DaVinci Code

Posted August 24th, 2006 by Deepa and filed in Personal
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I saw Lago Raho Munnabhai this weekend. It sounds like Gandhigiri has become the buzz-word of the nation, the relevance of Gandhiji’s values today are being discussed all over. My theories may be a little tangential to the entire Gandhigiri idea but provides my perspective on why it is difficult to follow the values/teachings of certain leaders.

Chanakya’s astute philosophy of “Saam Dam Dand Bhed” is what I attribute the problems in following Gandhism. As per Chanakya’s policy there are various ways to getting your task done: by polite requests (saam), by bribery (daam), by violence (dand) or by creating a difference (bhed). With personalities such as Gandhi, what worked against his principles becoming mainstream is the last one: the most powerful one of them. Bhed is the act of creating a difference between two people, once you make Gandhi a “super human personality”, he is suddenly different from the common man. Many of what he preached was suddenly things that a normal human being could not do…because well you are just a mere moral while Gandhi was a super-man, a demi god. While blaming Gandhi for the several ills that are present in Indian society today, it is the same bhed that everyone is operating under. Gandhi was a human being, he made mistakes: there might be times he did not make the right decisions…so what needs to be done is to appreciate the good things he did, forgive him for the bad ones and move on.

Similarly my theory extends towards Jesus Christ & Christianity too….Like in the Da Vinci code (which is excellent fiction) , Jesus was probably a wonderful preacher that lived 2000 years back…perhaps a gifted orator but none the less human. By providing him with a “godly” status, in one simple stroke we have ensured that several things that Jesus preached can be attributed to the fact that he was “GOD”. Creating that difference is the surest way of making sure that it is not easy to follow the teachings of these “godly” men.

Perhaps, we should be expunge adjectives like godly, out of the world, divine, heavenly from our vocabulary. May be people can be appreciated for the wonderful human qualities they possess. Isn’t it a shame that we think so lowly of humanism that any good traits are perceived to be other-worldly.  When human beings are given godly stature, legends are fabricated around them, truth generally gets buried beneath apocryphal tales, all actions become miraculous making the person’s preaching a tough act to follow.

My piece of worthless crap for the day!

A Visit to the Zoo

Posted June 23rd, 2006 by Deepa and filed in Personal
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Every Monday morning, although disgruntled at the start of yet another busy/boring/terrible/frustrating week, I very firmly resolve to write an e-mail to all you good folks , detailing my activities of the past week and hopes for the week to come. Unfortunately, the only exciting activity to report takes place while I sleep. Ladies and gentlemen, I am a walking talking (and sleeping) Freudian laboratory. The moment my head hits my pillow my mind is filled with one exciting adventure after the other. Last night I single-handedly saved two busloads of kids from certain death from a falling giant tree. And the night before , I was the leader of a group of people creating solutions to save the world from “GRAVE DANGER”. And the night before was the catalyst in a romantic drama involving three couples that if I penned down would make me a Bollywood legend. See, that’s what I said…since my life is so mundane my creativity and desire for adventure find an outlet subconsciously through my dreams.

Reality is the unfortunate time in between.

This weekend however was somewhat “exciting” due to a trip to the Washington National zoo. How have the mighty fallen!!! After dallying around Italy and zooming off to Vermont and driving up-to the Niagara last year….all I have to report this year is a trip to the local zoo. But I have said I shall describe my weekends and so I shall start with the zoo-story. “Bear” with me!!!! ( hahaha!!)

During my last visit to San Diego , I visited the San Diego zoo, touted as the “best in the country”. After crossing the country to visit a zoo, I thought it a shame that I have never been to the one in my backyard. A visit to the DC zoo was necessary to compare the two. That was not meant to be taken literally. I shall refrain at this point to describe the wildlife and the insects that live happily behind my house and occasionally find a way to come and visit me inside. With this noble purpose, Seejo, Robin, Ashu and I set off on Saturday morning to “go to the zoo”. The DC zoo scored its first point over the SD zoo, because it was free.

IMG_6765We started off with the cheetah, and watched it dozing for a while and imagined the tremendous speed it could achieve if it ever woke up from its slumber. Just as we were tired of watching it sleep, and were about to leave, it raised its head to watch us go , almost as though saying “good riddance!”. We wandered off next to see a couple of wolves, who had clearly marked their territory by liberally spraying strongly stinking urine lavishly around their area. All we managed to see was a glimpse of two pointed ears, hiding behind the tall grass. By this time, it was getting quite hot (it was almost 95 degrees); the giraffe was standing quite listlessly , a baby elephant was trying to cool itself off by splashing water from its pool, the pandas were dozing in its cave. The pandas by the way were the star attraction of the DC zoo. The panda cub was actually born sometime in the last year in the zoo making it a rare creature. There were large amounts of children trying to glimpse the sleeping pandas imaging them as giant cuddly bears, oblivious of the fact that these are quite vicious creatures!! We saw a big ball of fur which we correctly interpreted as a dozing panda and ticked it off our “to-see” list.

We soon escaped to the cool confines of the aviary, where a few chattering birds were the attractions, impossibly still owls, some cockatoos with exhibitionist tendencies , colorful birds from the Amazon, a flock of pink flamingoes that had their neck tied up in knots. Out of the aviary, the next on the list were the seals, sea lions and beavers, all of them swimming gracefully in the water, making me quite resentful of the fact that they had their own water hole to splash about while I was trudging along in the high morning heat.

The next stop was the reptile museum where there were at least 50 different kinds of snakes, a dozen or so types of frogs, a variety of lizards and even a komodo dragon. By the way hilarious bit of stuff overheard at near the dragon enclosure: a piece of sage advice from a dad to his son, “ If those dragons bite you, you will die immediately cos they have bacteria and stuff ”. Sniggering at this, we passed on to the next exhibit: the monkeys where I learnt an important bit of information that the gorillas are African while orangutans are Asian in origin.IMG_6877 The monkeys were quite relaxed and oblivious of the people gawking at them. In fact one particular gentleman was reposing gracefully up a tree, and from time to time would take something from his arse and devour it as thought it was a tasty tit-bit. Another one wandered to the glass partition that divided the human apes form the gorilla apes and majestically sat there unmindful of the clicks and flashes that popped around them, like he was a famous star condescending to give the paparazzi a few poses !!

That was it for the day and tired after an exciting day out in the sun, we trudged homewards. And so when someone asks me in the future…so whats new with you…done anything exciting, I can proudly answer them. Yes, ofcourse we visited the zoo last week.

Things I need to write about

Posted March 11th, 2006 by Deepa and filed in Personal
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Here is a teaser…

•  Is Pregnancy An Epidemic…

There was a week, sometime last month, when I had one or another friend calling me every single day to share the “good news”. This sudden urge to procreate among my friends got me thinking…Is there a bug going around this season…Is Pregnancy an epidemic….The clock ticks awfully loudly as you approach 30.

•  Will Deepa’s Apprentice Trump Donald’s….

I have been telling everybody that calls me as well, that we are expecting a “teesra” member in the family. No, I haven’t been bitten by the momma-bug but I have Seejo’s cousin staying with us for a couple of months. He is working as a temp in my office helping out with several routine actitvities. He gets an exposure to American lifestyle and work culture and I gain an apprentice.

•  The secret workings of corporate America …..

Don’t want to speak about work…but gosh have I learnt a lot of stuff at work.

•  I am a workaholic

As I copied assignments, muddled my way through last minute assignments, barely competed projects and generally lazed my way through engg college, I never realized that I liked work. Until the fatal night when I had an epiphany….I am a workaholic. I stay up regularly past 1pm to finish my office deadlines, work on weekends without a “proper boss” to keep tabs on me. And I seem to do all this because I want to…Someone please call a psychiatrist…

Backwaters

Posted February 1st, 2006 by Deepa and filed in Travel
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IMG_5984A 24 hour cruise in a one-room houseboat.

In the still backwaters of Aalapuzha

Boats of bamboo and coconut fibre

Three complete authentic Kerala meals

Palm fringed picturesque landscape

Walking on the edge of the paddy fields

Little children surprised by us

Potential “foreigners” who spoke Malayalam

Sailing through the tiny canals

Edged with houses on both sides

Humungous grilled lobsters for dinner,

Sunset on the Vembanadu kayal

Sleeping on the boat with the sea-breeze,

A brief moment of tranquility

Amidst the frenzy that is the India trip.