November 11, 2010

My diary from the Zion & Bryce trip

7 friends from 3 cities set off on their 3rd venture together on the Labor Day weekend this year to sign off 2 more US National Parks from their list of parks to explore! The chosen ones for this expedition were Zion and Bryce National Parks in Utah. Since we were all coming from several cities across the West coast, a meeting point was to be decided and the closest city to these parks, Las Vegas, was an obvious and unanimous choice. Since we all know the ground rule "Whatever happens in Vegas stays in Vegas", this blog will focus only on the Zion and Bryce memories from the trip and conveniently leave the Vegas nights out of print (though certainly not out of mind!).

After a long Vegas Friday night behind us and an early lunch, our journey to the one of the most scenic natural wonder began. The 5 hours on road breezed by in the company of good old friends, music, games, food and fun. The early signs of what was in store for us came as we reached close to the park and saw some unbelievable stone structures on either sides of the road. We stopped at the park entrance sign for our customary group snap and then halted at several vista points within the park. The view of the canyon is breathtaking and unbelievable. The erosion over many hundreds of years has led to a natural pattern formation on the rocks, which almost seems like delicately chiseled stonework by hundreds of sculptors. When you set your gaze on this marvelous canyon you also realize that there is more detail and synergy to the reddish, brownish, orange tinges to these structures than meets the eye. After sinking in the reality of this picturesque place and capturing it in our lenses for future pondering and reminiscing, we called it a day and supposedly headed for some rest at the Best Western hotel. We played a card game called Dalmuti which was completely dominated by one of our friends, and we played until he lost a round for the first time. Whoever coined "sadistic pleasure" was a wise man! :) Pillow fights and an iPad and iPhone app "Talking Tomcat" advertised by our Apple savvy friends added to the already entertaining session of watching our favorite Hindi movie "Welcome" for the millionth time!

For a group that deeply and whole-heartedly values food and sleep and leisure, getting up and winning the race with the sun for the first spot at the Sunrise Point in Bryce canyon is truly the most remarkable feat of the trip. As the sun's crisp rays touched each layer of the canyon, it gradually brought the dark hidden patterns of the rocks into bright shining visibility. We then rewarded ourselves with a lavish breakfast at the hotel and set off on our hike into the deep corners of the canyon. The trail head was 0.4 kms from the Visitor Center and the 1.8 mile hike though short was not an easy one with the steep uphill climb on our way back. This Queen's Garden hike was filled with close encounters with the amusing shaped rocks and arches and beautiful lookouts into the nooks of the naturally sculpted canyon walls. We undoubtedly captured the most amazing photographs posing beside these marvels. At our next destination, Zion National Park, after a 2 hour drive from Bryce, we stopped at the park sign for a group snap. The 2 photographers of the group gifted the rest of us one of the funniest memory of seeing them run a few meters towards the sign setting auto click on the cameras. Zion has a majestic charm of its own. In striking contrast to the delicate patterns of Bryce, Zion boasts of huge sandstone mountains formed by the pressure of flowing river water and other geological activity over time. We hiked a short trail in the evening and were humbled by the enormity of the rock walls on either sides. After the sun left to explore the other half of the world, the dark trail roofed with star filled sky became scary and fast paced. We realized that this was an apt time for narrating stories about snakes and ghosts and wild animals revealing their hiding spots at dinner time. At the end of this trail, our thirst for some adventure was not satiated enough, so we went star gazing in a dark, secluded corner of the park. While deeply engrossed in identifying constellations, a random unrecognizable sound of an animal from the dark was followed by all of us jumping into the car, locking the doors to discover that no one took the driver's seat. So we tasted our share of peril for the night before settling down in the Best Western again in Zion.

Our target for the morning was Angel's Landing, a 2.5 mile(one way) hike to a landing on one of the peaks for a grand view of the Zion canyon. We geared ourselves with heavy breakfast, backpacks filled with water and snacks, and a lot of enthusiasm and reached the trail head in a bus operated by the park authorities. From then onwards the word on everyone's mind was "Lakshya" (meaning target). We were astounded by the trail path that varied from steep winding zig zag pattern to long stretches of upward slope accompanied by several photographic elements like mini-caves and crevices in the walls seeking our attention for exploring and capturing in our lenses. It was an arduous hike and we rejoiced at our first milestone - Scotts Lookout. The last 0.5 miles ahead of us kept our hearts pounding heavily. This stretch had no paved trail, and involved almost rock climbing skills with a chain to hold onto while looking into the 900+ feet deep valley on the other side. Setting each foot on a stable but slant rock while trusting the grip of my hands onto the chain for the safety of my life sent some chills down my spine. After about a quarter of this stretch, one of us realized his fear of heights and this was not a good spot to be in. So he and I backed out of this mission, while the rest of our group went ahead and hoisted the flag of accomplishment at the peak. I strongly recommend attempting this hike, if only to realize your hidden fears and I hope to mark my footsteps at this peak some day for sure. After the relatively easy downward hike back to the base, we saw the other mystifying spots in Zion in a bus ride through the canyon. A well deserved lunch and a drive back to the entertainment capital marked the end of our Zion experience.

Words and pictures may fail to justifiably match up to the memories that we hold from this trip. The destinations left us in awe of the wonders of nature and a strong beckoning for another visit. Looking forward to exploring the unexplored ...

November 8, 2010

Diwali celebrations!

This year Diwali celebrations began early, and we(seattle-folks) met for our traditional Diwali get-together on the weekend before the official Diwali weekend. So the tradition continues, this time with different hosts, different dishes, different sarees and kurtas shimmering .. but the spirit of celebrations is just the same! I am amazed at the energy and enthusiasm that Diwali brings with it, no matter where you are or how busy your mundane schedule is, the celebrations always find a way to light up our lives.

The menu for the Diwali potluck was adorned by dishes like dabeli, frankie, cutlets, methi malai matar sabji, dum aloo sabji, parathas, pulav, raita, srikhand, and gajar halwa. From the chaat appetizers to the amazing entrées to the delicious desserts was a grand food fiesta! Need I say anything more about the food?? :) This party also marked the farewell of one of our friends who is leaving Seattle for good as she has found her life-partner in a sunny state and is soon gonna tie the nuptial knot. So a session of hearing her thoughts and memories of each one of us was another highlight of the evening. As much as we tried to keep the session emotional, the efforts predictably resulted in the opposite sentiment of humor and laughter riots. After a round of non-democratic non secret voting for some not-to-be-published-here predictions for this group, everyone joined the mafia(game) bandwagon, another tradition that this group have been following. This game is always intense and brings out the true colors of each player and highly entertains a large group like ours. It was a strange coincidence that like last years mafia session during Diwali, this year too I was the mafia for all the rounds.

The real Diwali weekend that followed was no less exciting. Friday evening was spent with a couple of friends at home over dinner, games, talks and food of course! The Diwali element was added by the row of lamps lighting up the house and the festive lights garland that decorated our patio. The next day was a shopping day, when we shopped till we dropped dead in the night. Shopping is such an integral part of the Diwali celebrations back home(in India) that we were glad we continued that tradition this year in Seattle as well. Last but certainly not the least, we celebrated Diwali with many others at a family friend's house on Sunday afternoon. We met a lot of people from several diverse cultures of the world, and I was once again overwhelmed by the spirit of everyone who came together to celebrate this festival. The delicious traditional Indian food prepared by the hosts, modern rangoli made out of M&Ms, the enthusiastic and energetic kids running around, and warm exchanges of cultural insights with the guests at the party were the highlights of this afternoon.

May this festival continue to bring all the joy and prosperity and brightness to everyone as always!!!

August 24, 2010

My first trip to a third country!

Besides the country in which I was born and the one where I live, I had never stepped out beyond the airport lounges of any third country until last month when I set my feet on the Canadian soil in its Victoria city in British Columbia. The journey was very short, a 3 hour ferry ride operated by Victoria Clipper and so was the trip - less than 48 hours long!

We reached Victoria before noon on a beautiful sunny Saturday and set off on a bus ride to the famous Butchart gardens. The guide on our bus gave some interesting facts about the city, which unfortunately didn't interest us a whole lot! And so I know why I don't remember any of those! The gardens are huge and beautiful, it is in fact a collection of several smaller gardens like rose garden, Japanese garden, Italian garden, sunken garden and many others. Before we toured these gardens and got engrossed in photography and posing, we got some coffee and ice-cream, though we had lunch just about an hour earlier before we hopped onto the bus! We laughed at the obvious thought, expressed our dislike for the non Starbucks coffee and laughed again and ate all the ice-cream and then toured the gardens.

The city is a small pretty tourist destination! The Fairmont Empress hotel and parliamentary buildings are the pride of the downtown. An afternoon hight tea at the Fairmont Empress is one of Victoria’s grandest traditions, but we are not tea-lovers and so we are among the less than a percent of people(my guess!) who did not experience this tradition in their Victoria trip! We walked through the small downtown, capturing the city in its touristy busy, and picturesque look! We also walked though its Chinatown that has flamboyant gold tiles and red pillars at its entrance and we enjoyed a delicious Asian meal. The Fan Tan Alley in Chinatown is the narrowest lane in Canada (only 0.9 metres wide), which is a much hyped place to see than what really looks like a narrow crack between 2 red-brick buildings!

The trip was a milestone in my life since I visited a new country! And we left Victoria with some great memories of a scenic, beautiful and relaxing weekend.

July 15, 2010

A tale of 2 cities!

Last couple of weekends were spent in San Jose(again this year!) and Seattle respectively! Though Seattle happens to be my home-city, this weekend did not fit the just-another-weekend in Seattle category!

Another San Jose visit was planned without any hesitation by a huge fan of the God of music - A R Rahman - a fan who has always dreamt of hearing the maestro live! But when the weekend came, our excitement was dampened by the postponement of the concert. The trip still remains amongst the memorable ones for it will be remembered by the times we cherished with friends. After a long, long, tiring drive to the Bay area, I will not be exaggerating if I say that my spirit for the trip was regained just at the sight of my friends when we reached there. From there onwards, there was no looking back! We started with a grand lunch, followed by a barbecue party at Half Moon Bay later in the day. The beach, the beautiful sunset, the talks, the jokes, the pranks, the food, and the drive through the dense fog were all the pieces of a "dream evening" collage! Some of us were engrossed in food, others in the talks, one of us was busy capturing these moments in his lenses, and some of us gave memorable poses for his collection! Even nature couldn't stop itself from portraying one of the best sunset pictures in front of our eyes!

The next day in the Bay area was spent visiting friends and family and catching up on all the latest and greatest happenings in everyone's lives! A post dinner session of desserts and more talks with certain not-to-be-named Indian television shows in the backdrop and a successful attempt at a "Hum saath saath hain" snap was quite an unusual but memorable time from the trip!

No sooner had we gotten over the hangover of this trip than the long weekend followed and this time a couple of friends from Bay area felt like teasing the Seattle sun but the sun hid behind the clouds for most of the time! The weekend began with a soccer game that happened while I was still dreaming, and then a drive to Mount Rainier that I distinctly remember since I was driving :) Snow fights, in fact snow war along the Nisqualy Vista trail interspersed with posing for our cameraman was not easy for me, especially since I was the sole warrior defending the Northwest side, but nevertheless was full of thrill and chills !!! In the peace time, Mount Rainier showed its true colors and left us marveling at its majestic look all over again! I wouldn't be doing justice to what we saw, and so let the pictures convey here. Our next day seemed to fly by with a drive to the Alki beach, Readhook brewery, Canam pizza and a certain not-to-be-named Indian movie with Independence day fireworks show seen from our deck!

My eventful but no suspense filled story of the 2 cites ends. If you are still there, you wouldn't mind a happy note that its mid July and finally the sun is enjoying outside daily while we are enjoying as well!

May 25, 2010

Its all good at the Hood!

On a May weekend, 2010 I set off on my fourth trip to the Portland neighborhood in Oregon state. Each trip has been special in its own way and this time the significance of the weekend dates in our lives and having the family together to celebrate the days made it very special.

Multnomah Falls
Our trip started early in the morning at 5.30 am when we all set out on our 3 hour drive. Watching the sun come up and brighten up the day and listening to Hindi songs we haven't heard in ages made our destination arrive much faster than we realized. We stopped for breakfast at the Original Pancake House for some pancakes of course :) Then we headed to the Woodburn shopping mall for doing what I love to do the most! Lucky me.. to get to start the vacation with loads of shopping bags! Then we headed for some Italian lunch followed by the drive along the Columbia River Gorge Scenic Highway. The view of the gorge is as always so mesmerizing. The drive along the winding highway road with gorgeous waterfalls at regular intervals is amongst the best scenic drives that I have ever done. We stopped at the Shepherd Dell, Wakheena and Latourell waterfalls after which we reached the tall and beautiful Multnomah falls. Each waterfall is unique in its course and sound and beauty and you cant help but fall in love with this form of nature's gift! We then headed to our hotel located on the shoreline of Columbia River. The panoramic view of the flowing river and bridge across it from our hotel room was just more icing on the cake :)

The next morning started with a grand breakfast at our hotel. I have to mention this because not many hotels serve hot breakfast at their restaurant with unmatched ambiance and river view like this one. We then set off on our drive to Mount Hood! The Hood started peeping through the other mountains and the uneven terrain in the first 30 mins of our drive and ever since offered some breathtaking views all along the drive. We stopped at several vista points on the way intending to capture the Hood in all its different looks! When we finally reached Timberline Lodge at the base of the Hood, we were surrounded by the pure serene white bed of snow. Geared in our warm snow jackets, gloves and scarfs we took the Magic Mile ski lift ride to reach closer to the Hoods summit. That ride is just a gateway to a view like God's own handcrafted scene. We played in the snow, and tried to capture every moment spent there in our lens and in our memories. We had been to this same point a couple of times before, but each visit only reiterates the humbling feelings in our hearts in the midst of these magnificent natural wonders.

The Hood was the pinnacle point of our trip by all literal and emotional means and the memories of each of our visit to the Hood will always be very dear to us! As always - "Its all good at the Hood".

April 23, 2010

A weekend at Pittsburgh rocked our world!

The excitement of visiting CMU campus for the first time after graduation was building up ever since we planned our trip a few months ago! But I did not anticipate the magnitude of nostalgia, fun and memories this trip had in store for us for sure! We left for the city of bridges on Friday night last weekend in a red-eye flight, all charged up to catch up with our friends at the INI alumni lunch next day. We were pleasantly surprised to meet a couple of friends on our second leg to Pittsburgh and so the catching up began early on. Driving through Pittsburgh freeways in a rented car was a "first time" event and it was unusual not to be in a 28X for this ride, but the downtown view after crossing the Ford-Pitt tunnel was as touching as it had been on all our previous rides from the airport to the campus.

City view from Duquesne Incline
As we passed the restaurants on Atwood, we were reminded of the several occasions that were celebrated in some of those restaurants. We left the car at a hotel near our campus and then walked to the cathedral where the alumni lunch was hosted and met our friends and INI staff members after what seemed like ages ago. The lunch session was filled with exchange of hellos and hugs and introductions and wishes and congratulations with the gang that had lots of news to share and even more memories to reminisce. We then headed to our campus, checked the newly opened CS department building, and walked through "our own" campus buildings, posed for snaps and acted like "school kids" all over again! We also visited our apartment on Craig Street that was our first student home in the States so to say! The evening began with great food and networking with the alumni who had made it for this event from across several states and countries! The night after the evening saw no end and the parties just poured over from one location to another. The dinner party continued at Doc's place over more beer and drinks, and this was just the beginning of a night to be remembered forever! The night unfolded at Zen where dance and drinks worked their charm on all of us! Another first time for us in Pittsburgh, and the pleasure was immeasurable. It was overwhelming to see how we reconnected with our buddies, some of those we had even lost contact with in the last couple of years. After few hours of rocking the dance floor, we headed to Duquesne incline for capturing the perfect night shot of the downtown and needless to say redoing this for our emotional connection with this place from school times! By now our stomachs were growling for food and though we were sapped off all our energy we made our way to a restaurant for some burgers and fries and hot chocolate before we called it a night!

CMU Computer Science Dept Gates Building
The next day came soon in only about 5 hours and we headed back to campus, this time starting the trip with my favorite Iced Chai tea from Kiva Han. I live in the birthplace of Starbucks but dream about the Kiva Han at the campus corner.. I know that the connection with this place goes beyond the unmatched taste of its iced chai tea. We toured the campus all over again, not content with our previous day's tour and touched few more places this time. Since we had an early afternoon flight, our second day had to end sooner than we would have liked! In spite of the race against time to catch the flight, we made a quick stop at Pamela's in Strip District to exchange the all-important last minute goodbyes with our friends who were there for lunch. A couple of days into the week and I could not get over the nostalgia and wished I could go back in time and relive the grad school years - the years that changed my life, that made the most difference, that gifted me great friendships and that will be cherished forever!

Downtown view from Duquesne Incline

April 4, 2010

Trip to the Bay Area...

Though I have stayed in the Bay area for 3 months during my internship days, and I have done a lot of sight-seeing then, there is something about the place that never makes me seem to have had enough!
This year in Feb we spent a weekend in the Bay Area to soak up some sun after a month of gloomy and cloudy days. Since I stay in Seattle neighborhood I had to say that, right! Well, a third of our grad school peers are settled in the Bay Area so we were all set for weekend full of socializing and reliving all the fun from our good old days. Did I make it sound like it was a million years ago.. gosh .. its hasn't been that long by numbers but staying away from them in a different city makes it seem like that!

In between all the social meets, we also did some sight-seeing in the area. We visited Mount Diablo State park which is a ride to the summit of Mount Diablo marked by the serene, pure, panoramic views. We enjoyed the beauty of the place, captured some nice poses (thanks to our pro photographer friend :)) and not to forget all the fun and talks that we had been looking forward to! The next day had some crisp bright sunlight in store for us and we headed to see the majestic Golden Gate Bridge from Sausalito. The pleasure I derived by just walking down those streets with a bunch of friends, talking about random crazy things, posing and trying to capture every moment to freeze it forever was magical!  Our day ended at a friend's home with a session of movie scenes that have been an integral part of our fun times along with delicious homemade food and we couldn't have asked for more!

Friendships from school days and and the joy of reliving the times spent with old friends are priceless. Cheers to all of you who have been a part of this amazing, life-changing experience!