Monthly Archives: September 2012

A trip to Washington DC and the Shenandoah National Park

With family visiting us in May 2011, when I was in the U.S. , we set out to shortlist all the ‘touristy’ locations on the East Coast to show them around.  Most itineraries of people visiting the east coast include New York, Washington DC, Niagara falls, Boston and if budget/time permits Orlando theme parks. Throw in an Atlantic city, and the US visit is complete!..rather if they don’t go for a ‘Tirth yatra’ to any of the above places, they have seen nothing at all in the US!

We were on our way!

So, as Memorial Day (the day to honor war heroes and veterans) dawned, we packed up our bags and our assortment of snacks of sandwiches, gobi parathas, pickles, ketchup, cheese, chips, laddoos, bananas, oranges,strawberries, water, frooti, ‘fast’ snacks, halwa, cake and chocolates!  Yeah, I can’t believe we actually finished all of that! It took far more time to make and buy all that than gobble it up!

I dozed off almost immediately in the car to wear out the weariness of all that food preparation and refused to wake up till lunch time at Maryland where we stopped for a picnic lunch.  That power nap did me a world of good, as I took up the wheel in the next leg of our drive to Shenandoah National Park. As we got on to the Skyline Drive of 105 miles, the cool mountain breeze and the scenic vistas greeted us all along.  Although we did not spend as much time as we would have liked to hiking and biking, I did enjoy the feel of wild grass under my feet, the bloom of the wild yellow flowers, deer peacefully chewing away in natural surroundings and the balmy breeze.
A short hike at Shenandoah
The sun peaking through the lush trees at Shenandoah
A Shenandoah wildlife sighting
The woods are lovely, dark and deep
Day two and three of our trip had been set aside for Washington, and we set forth after a heavy breakfast at the hotel.  Well, again, it being a purely touristy trip, that translates into getting off the car, taking photos and getting back to the car, we thought, we would do it in no time at all! But fortunately or unfortunately, the city had other plans for us!  Memorial Day is a big deal in USA, and I was hoping to witness something of this day in the capital city to reflect some of Americas traditional celebration.  I was not disappointed.  As we drove in, people with waving flags greeted us as we crossed overhead footwalks and bridges, several Harleys zoomed past us everywhere making us wonder what was in store.  As traffic moved to a snails pace, we pulled out and took the metro route.  Riding a city’s trains has always excited me, be it New York, Kolkata, Mumbai or Washington as it is something non-touristy, something that citizens use to go about their life everyday anywhere. The stations here were much cleaner and spacious and far less smelly than NYs stations.  Being Memorial day, well, only tourists clambered onto the train and took away the charm of the locals travelling! We got off at the station near the White House, and started our act of clicking away to glory in the usual silly poses. Barrack and Michelle must certainly be uneasy in that fortress with snipers patrolling its terraces and with all that security and tourists and even protesters constantly outside their windows. Never a moment of peace to enjoy those lush gardens outside!
The White House

The next halt was the George Washington memorial which is the tallest structure in Washington DC.  Here is the exciting part.  As we neared it, the vroom of motorcycles was heard nearby. As we recollected the many bikes we saw on the road, we hastened towards it.  It turned out to be a spectacular rally of 400,000 bikes (these huge mean machines- Harleys or look alikes) aptly known as ‘Rolling Thunder’ that was paying tribute to American war heroes in their own style.  That certainly was a super show!

George Washington Memorial

 

Rolling Thunder
The Capitol

For the remainder of the day we proceeded to visit the Smithsonian museums.  I went to the National Gallery of Art and tremendously enjoyed seeing master pieces of Impressionists as well as Modernists. I particularly enjoyed seeing the Chester Dale collection that included works of great masters such as Monet, Renoir, Picasso, Van Gogh among others.  I was also pleased to see special exhibits by Gauguin, who I was first fascinated by’ on reading Maugham’s ‘The Moon and the Six Pence’.  Apart from these that I admire, I also managed to find the ones I didn’t and took pleasure in rebuking Rothko’s and Barnett Newman’s modern (non!) art which I wrote about in a recent blog! I finally left the museum after it closed and dragged myself to the Air and Space museum to join the others and find out about their sojourn to the Natural History museum which I skipped seeing.  We ended the day with a meal at an Indian restaurant with a snooty manager and driving around in Washington , uh..driving around was not out of choice, but because our GPS kept taking us round in circles and all over the place!

The Air and Space museum
Our trip drew to a close the next day when we saw the lofty memorials built in honor of US Presidents Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson and the Vietnam and Korea war memorials. With plenty of memorial spots dotted across town, we had to skip most of them albeit with no regrets really!
Thomas Jefferson Memorial
Abraham Lincoln in his towering seat

Well, again, for people out to visit places for the sake of the photo, Washington DC was a pleasant place to be in.  However, as always, I always believe, cities are to be experienced by living there and a couple of days’ visits will never capture the essence or the culture. However, all in all, this was a lazy fun trip that kept everyone contented for all the things they saw.

Categories: United States | Tags: , , | 22 Comments

Guest post for the Cybernag – Ganapati Bappa Morya

Zephyr is one of my favorite bloggers for a long time.  She writes about social issues, families, kids and a host of things that will  make you sit up, take notice and react.  She gave me an opportunity to do a guest blog on her famous blog ‘The Cyber Nag’ and I was thrilled to do just that!  Here is a snippet of what I wrote on the Ganapati Festival in India- 

The festival of Ganapati is around the corner and the entire atmosphere is suffused with festivity. Shops selling Ganapati have cropped up all over the city of Mumbai, from main markets to narrow alleys, where rows upon rows of painted and unpainted Ganapatis of various sizes and shapes sit, waiting to be taken home. Kids and adults wander about looking for the one they want to install in their homes.

To read the rest of the blog go to http://cybernag.in/2012/09/ganapati-bappa-morya/

P.S.1  – This post was selected by BlogAdda as its Spicy Saturday Pick  :) .

P.S 2 – This post was published in the newspaper DNA, Mumbai edition on Sept 24. :)

Categories: India | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

The Fourth Wonder – Wahiba Sands, Oman

It was a sunny afternoon when I discovered Beauty. I had considered three elements, the turbulent seas, the star studded unending skies and the imposing mountains as the most awe inspiring wonders I had ever known. That day I discovered the fourth. It was the hauntingly starved desert. I had seen the desert on television, the biggest it got for me was 32’’. When I saw the Wahiba Sands desert at Oman, I discovered another facet of nature previously unknown to me.

We were picked up at Muscat by our tour guide in a 4 wheel drive. I had no idea what was in store when we left the road and entered the sandy desert.

The Wahiba Sands desert was as vaster than I could see, more beautiful than I had imagined it to be. There was so much sand everywhere. Humongous stretches of ceaseless sand were interspersed with shrubs that looked ravaged by the blazing sun. I saw Sand that had built itself into mammoth dunes which looked more like mountains to me, Sand that was so fine that it felt like water in my hands, Sand that formed beautiful waves styled by the wind, Sand which changed colors from red to white to brown as we changed course in the desert and Slippery Sands on which Camels walked on with ease. I was enthralled completely by the beauty of the whole vista.

Entering Wahiba Sands

Waves of sand

The Wahiba Sands is a popular desert destination at Oman with several camping facilities and tours that organize camps deep into the desert. Many of these are even luxury camps with almost all with running water and some with even a swimming pool! To maintain the ethnicity though, a well thought out cultural program with dances, local cooking etc. is often organized too. We had booked ourselves with one such camp and thoroughly enjoyed the royal treatment.

As we entered, the camp, our senses feasting on the beauty in the bareness, we were treated to refreshing ‘zatar’ tea. We later went ‘dune bashing’ or ‘wadi bashing’ on 50–200 m high sand dunes which was quite thrilling.

The desert that is scorching by day is chilly by night. As the lights grew dim, we washed for dinner and settled in the open area for the cultural program. After dinner, we started star gazing and there were oh, so many stars! The city smoke and fog allows us to see hardly any stars. Deep in the desert, the dark velvety sky was bejeweled with these a massive number of these bright starry embellishments. We star-gazed for several hours trying to figure out the few basic constellations we knew. Far away from civilization, we could see nothing but pitch darkness outside the vicinity of the camp.

We awoke in the spacious tent-room in the desert to a very dewy and chilly morning. A quick breakfast later we were on our way home. It was fascinating to see so many camels out there in the middle of nowhere. We made a halt at one of the local Bedouin people’s homes at the fringe of the desert. Although the Bedouin people or the residents of the desert now have access to the latest amenities, many still lead their lives near the desert, owning herds of camels, or through tourism.

A dewy campsite in the morning

Cute little camel at Wahiba Sands

Serene camels

The way back to Muscat was another visual treat on the Sur-Muscat highway which is a coastal road for a long patch. With bare mountains on one side and the sea on the other, it was hard not to stop at every scenic spot we saw! All in all, a fantastic trip which revealed to us a new element of nature we were hitherto unaware of.

The coastal Muscat-Sur highway

Muscat-Sur higway coast

Categories: Oman, World | Tags: , , , , | 12 Comments

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