Author Archives: Richa

Europe public transport – Easy, Economical and Environment friendly!

Public transport has often intimidated many especially in a new place. However, public transport in Europe is easy, economical and environmental friendly. Unless you have a truckload of baggage and only travel wearing stilettos, do consider public transport anytime over taking an expensive cab or walking unnecessarily!

“Why should you take public transport in Europe?”

  1. With a myriad number of options of buses, metro, trains, and trams, it may seem complicated if you haven’t traveled before, but the fun in travelling lies in exploring the city the way locals do too. It gives you a peek into the local attitudes, dressing, and culture.
  2. It is in the public transport, that you might just get away from the hordes of milling tourists at key attractions who usually stay around these.
  3. Unlimited tickets provide you with unlimited hop ons and hop offs to public transport. So use these to take some picturesque routes and explore the city! For example, you can take Tram 1 along the Danube in Budapest or even have a boat ride! So, just sit back and enjoy the sights in comfort! And please do save your poor tired feet to be able to walk at museums, for exploration and for shopping!
  4. Last and not the least, of course, you would also save a lot of money using public transport. For example, a taxi from point A to point B would cost you at least 10 Euros and could go upto 40-50 Euros for the airport. On the other hand, public transport would cost you about 2.5-3 Euros for a single trip depending on the kind of ticket you choose. So, obviously, it makes sense, and all the more for solo travelers who may not be able to split the costs.
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Another day at a train station at Paris

 

What you do need to keep in mind though is every city has its unique mode of ticketing and you need to check which type of ticket suits you.

“The ticket systems are confusing? How do you decide which ticket suits you?”

When you take a transport pass or ticket, evaluate the number of days you ll be using the ticket, the number of trips you will make during your visit and how many people are there in your group.  Also children under 6 travel free usually, but it is good to check specifics for the city you are traveling to.

What are the types of tickets you should evaluate?

  1. The discounted bunch of tickets – At Budapest or Barcelona for example, one could buy a bunch of 10 tickets which would be cheaper than buying a single ticket.
  2. The day passes – One can buy 24 hour, 48 hour or 72 hour day passes in several cities. Some day passes have an expiry based on the time duration, and some expire at say midnight or 4 am the next day. So be sure of what you have. These are typically useful for tourists who might do more than 3 trips a day. And it obviates the need to buy tickets each time. In some cases, such as Berlin, you can validate the ticket once and use it for the rest of the day. In Amsterdam, you need to check in and check out each time you board and leave the transport.
  3. Single ticket – Single tickets for one use can also be used if you plan only one single journey, for example, arrival late evening and you don’t plan venture out again, or while departing the city. These tickets are usually valid for an hour or two of travel from first travel.
  4. Group tickets – If you are traveling in a group, check out the option of group tickets. These are often cheaper than buying single tickets or passes for everyone
  5. City tourist cards – Several city tourist cards provide easy access to museums and other attractions. These cards also come with free public transport through the validity of the card. So, if you are getting a city card there is no need for a separate ticket! Cool huh?
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Traveling to stations and airports in the trains

“Now I have the tickets. What is next?”

  1. Check for the rules of the ticket – Check the validation requirements. It may not suffice to just buy a ticket. You may have to validate it at one of the yellow or red machines at the entrance of the public transport. If you don’t validate it, you may be considered ticketless and pay a hefty fine if caught!
  2. Check if the ticket is applicable for all forms of transport or if it is only metro or bus or tram and board accordingly. Often, tickets for the airport are different from those used in the city, so check if your ticket or pass is valid for travel to and fro from the airport too.
  3. Use Google maps to find out best routes and use the easiest one possible. Google maps not only provides multiple options for public transport with recommendations on which train and direction and which stop to get off, but also provides you with recommendations with filters on least walking, least time etc.

Go and have fun! If you save plenty of money, do splurge it on shopping afterwards!

 

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Categories: Europe, Other Travel Blah | 3 Comments

Staying at Hostels in Europe

Gone are the days when one had to book hotel rooms without knowing any details from suave travel agents. There are now a plethora of options and even a plethora of aggregators for all the options. From Homestays, hotels, and hostels, there are many places for all pockets to choose from. While staying at hostels is not a new concept, for many Indians, it still continues to be one. There are still perceptions, that these hostels are only for students or for backpackers. Well, my solo trips to Europe have completely busted any former perceptions I had of hostels.

With the changing times, hostels have caught on to the changing needs and have upgraded. No longer do you hear horror stories of bathrooms that smell or claustrophic rooms that give you sleepless nights. Hostels have organized themselves to cater to all sorts of travelers now. There are the budget travelers who don’t mind sharing a room or the bunk beds. The business travelers who are weary of dreary hotels and can enjoy the peace of a private room within the hostel, yet enjoy the jovial and warm vibe of the hostel, the leisure traveler who wants to stay long and enjoy facilities of a good kitchen and laundry at a reasonable price, the luxury traveler who wants to experience a hostel stay at a chic location, the solo traveler who looks to find company, and the party crowd. I have stayed in several hostels across Europe now and here are the points you should consider if you want to stay in one.

  1. Privacy: If you are looking for more privacy, you could look for rooms within the hostel too. These are usually at standard hotel rates in the vicinity but you get the atmosphere of the hostel and a good location. If you are traveling on budget, there are hostels which will provide you with curtains for every bed which trust me is important when travelers come in and out at night in dorms. There could even be attached bathrooms to the dorms if you prefer. For women, check out places that have exclusive female dorms for added comfort and security if you prefer.
  2. Location: After having stayed at several hostels, I realize that the location is not quite as important as the other factors. Most hostels are conveniently located to forms of public transport and it is fairly simple to get around. So, your hostel could be in a cosy neighborhood but a short train ride away from the hordes of tourists and it could just be better
  3. Self Catering: Most hostels provide self catering facilities and you can cook and eat your own food at the hostel. Well, you may not cook a full fledged meal, but it is nice to have a cup of coffee, maggi or a quick pasta at the hostel itself. As a vegetarian it was good to have the facility available. And of course, you can save plenty if you cook especially in expensive countries.
  4. Quiet hostels vs party hostels: Most hostels come in either of the two categories. If you are the sort who prefers to have a good nights sleep, then don’t book a place at a party hostel! Party hostels usually have a bar that is open for long, game rooms and common areas where travelers can enjoy a drink and socialize.
  5. Restrictions: You may want to be sure that the hostel has no restrictions for you or your group. Sometimes people over a certain age, children, pets and families are not welcomed by certain hostels. So be sure it suits you.
  6. Hostel chains – There are several hostel chains across Europe such as St. Christophers Inns, Generator, Stay Okay, Plus hostels etc. These are typically the large hostels, but you can be sure that they are quite professional and you will not face any problems. I have stayed at Christopher’s inn at Paris and the Berlin Plus, both of which were large and catered to my every need. However, there are several cosy old hostels usually with the best locations which are great too. For example, the Hostel Ruthensteiner at Vienna was the best hostel I have ever stayed at I reckon. I daresay, I have liked the smaller hostels better as you can meet more people in a smaller more personal setting rather than a hotel like lobby.
  1. Other factors such as cleanliness, good staff, price, good wifi, enough plug points are hygiene and you can glean how good the hostel is from reviews and pictures
  2. Read up the reviews: Read the reviews on Hostelworld.com before you book. Most reviews are authentic and provide you a good perspective on if the hostel is something  you want.

So, if you haven’t stayed in a hostel before, do give it a try!

Categories: Europe, Germany, Other Travel Blah | Tags: , , , | 8 Comments

Whatsapping our way through parenthood

Whatsapp

From going down to memory lane and bantering with friends for a few months and then  exchanging only ‘Good morning’ messages, birthday and festival wishes and perhaps some forwards a few months later, Whatsapp groups are what fuel our days. Whatsapp groups have become ubiquitous for anyone who has or ever had a common activity with a bunch of other people. While we turn to the forwards for some fun from these friendly groups, my daily dose of entertainment as well as minor irritation is from the school whatsapp groups for parents. Here is what I have discovered.

  1. Circulars sent by school aren’t supposed to be read. The questions have to asked and re-asked and answered on the whatsapp group. What time, what dress, which colours, when, how, what are other parents doing it?
  2. Entrepreneurs may just start adding photos of all that they have on sale. I once had a group where hundreds of pictures of dresses, kurtas and saris were put up on the group in one go!
  3. If there is a linguistic majority in the group, for example in mine it is Gujrati, you may start seeing forwards in Gujrati which everyone else is clueless about!
  4. At home, you can feed biscuits and cakes to your child, but God help the child if the school happens to serve noodles or French fries once in a blue moon. Ofcourse, whatsapp is where you have a full-blown discussion on if sandwiches, noodles or pasta should be boycotted from being served and where kids should be served only nutritious food such as dal-rice, and parathas! Eek, to think I can’t survive without bhelpuri once a week! And discussions on food can get even more polemical than a discussion between the Left and Right wings.
  5. Whatsapp groups are for important discussions between parents to rake up issues with the school. Like for example, if 2 kids get indigestion in class, the school food must be blamed. Although everyone else was fine really. If the teacher has scolded a child, it is a matter of discussion. Hello, breaking news: teachers are meant to reprimand and correct!
  6. If teachers don’t feed the child along with the 20 others, she is irresponsible. Not the parents, who haven’t been able to teach the child to eat on her own!
  7. What did they learn at school, what is for homework, when is it to be submitted, what was served for food, have the kids left school are questions to be answered even before the kid reaches home. EVERYDAY.
  8. There are dads on the school group. So “Mom’s please help”, “Mom’s let’s meet” makes them feel really left out. Do think of their feelings ladies!

While I am no expert on whatsapp etiquette, as parents, we need to consider that while whatsapp is a great tool to broadcast information, let us think if the discussion really warrants  inputs of a hundred others or if the information can be found in the school circular or if your child can tell you. Attending orientations, checking circulars and keeping them carefully, are responsibilities for parents, and we need to be cognizant that in this stream of information, the important points do  not get buried.  Ofcourse,  many a day has been saved when a responsible parent pings a reminder to send a puzzle on puzzle day (which is a puzzle to me!- A puzzle day – really?!)  or water logging during rains in Mumbai has rendered the transport shut  or if the school has announced a special holiday!  Social interactions are great as well by all means, but if it is a group meant for a purpose, let us stick to it.

Have you had any hilarious discussions in your school whatsapp groups?

Reference: The Internet Is Filling up because Indians are sending Millions of ‘Good Morning!’ texts

Categories: News, Views and Reviews | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Walking tours in Europe – What, Why, Where should you take these

It was in Europe that I discovered the ‘Free’ walking tours. These walking tours have been my favorite pass time this entire Europe trip. Europe has several wonderful cities in the continent with a huge number of stories to tell, monuments to show, and a history that goes back several centuries. While one can visit the monuments, look at them, take photos and pass on to the next sight to repeat, a tour is something that provides a bounty of information often designed to entertain as much as it is to inform.

And the big question…Free? Well, almost. The ‘Free’ walking tours, are free if you want them to be. But ofcourse, it is only decent that you tip or pay someone who has put an effort into designing and researching the tour, and spending the next 3-4 hours of their time on sharing their knowledge with you. How much you pay is upto you though. Fair deal huh!

What do the walking tours cover?

The tour covers key highlights of the city that can be covered in the vicinity of the area that can be covered on foot usually in a radius of 2-3 kms. Usually in the general overview tours, the old part of the city, the most touristy locations and places of key historical importance are covered. The tour normally finishes close to where it starts or the guide tells you how to get to where you started off or wherever else you may want to go to.

While the general tours are a fabulous way to get oriented to the city very quickly, the more indepth tours are even more interesting and I would highly recommend these depending on your interest. Each company can do their own versions of different types of tours. For example, in Paris there are Art tours of the Montmarte district which housed several famous artists, there were tours to the Prague castle, the Berlin alternate tours provided a peek into the street art and creative projects at work. These indepth tours are also quite reasonably priced and  companies such as Sandeman tours are excellent operators to choose. Then there are other tours such as bike tours or Segway tours which could cover greater distances and show similar attractions around town. There are pubcrawls in every city that promise to take you to the most exciting party places in town for a fee.

Berlin Walking tour

The Berlin Alternate tours guide was as funky as the tour she was taking!

 

What do the tour guides tell you?

These tours are not necessarily purely gyan or knowledge sessions that you might envisage. Run by a bunch of enthusiastic young people, often not always from the same city where they are conducting tours, the guides are certified, well educated and passionate about their work and city.

As the tour guide takes you to each point, he or she tells you the story behind the point. A lot of these stories are told with great animation and emotion and it is quite a performance indeed. Stories of kings, betrayals, crucifications, torture, resurrections, superstitions are all told with greatest relish and the power of storytelling keeps the audience engaged. The tour guide also shatters myths and tells you what is now touristy was never the norm! For example, my tour guide told me that ‘Trdelnik’ which is crisp bread and sugared was never Czech but is Hungarian although it is touted as a Czech delicacy everywhere. The guide at Berlin showed us the bunker where Hitler committed suicide..and it was under a mere parking lot! The tour guide also points out famous places to eat, where certain movies were shot, famous personalities of the country and the city, history of the city, political situation of the country and a lot more!

Prague walking tour

Prague walking tour

Duration of the walking tour

Be prepared to walk for long though! In the 3 hours of the tour, you can expect a 10 minute break somewhere in between but the rest of it can be quite tiring if you aren’t prepared for it! Sometimes, the tours also take you by public transport depending on the theme of the tour, but largely, most ground is covered walking.

Where to find details of the walking tours?

  • Look out for umbrellas beckoning you to join walking tours at key tourist locations
  • Check online
  • If you are staying in a hostel, check if the tour operators begin at the hostel as well. There could be additional discounts also in certain hostels or hotels, so be sure you avail them!
  • My personal favorite are the Sandeman tours. Check them out online! 

A complete must do, one should always check out the ‘Free’ walking tours before attempting any exploration of the city!

 

Categories: East Europe, Europe, France, Germany, Other Travel Blah | Tags: , , , | 5 Comments

Kashid ahoy!!

A drive down memory lane…A road trip to the beach getaway of Kashid

The rainy season didn’t see much rain although the fag end of the season in September saw thunderous showers that left traffic jams people are unlikely to forget. Another monsoon trip we undertook was an unplanned long drive to the pretty little beach of Kashid. Kashid is a 4-5 hour drive from Mumbai.

Our spirits weren’t exactly soaring when we left one cloudy weekend..a hard week at office, a vacation gone awry, no prior arrangement for lodging and boarding done at Kashid, getting stuck in an awful traffic jam for over two hours on a holiday..well, it all dissolved into nothingness as the verdant greenery all around enveloped us. The rains had enchanted the land and blessed it with a glory never seen in the bustle and pollution in today’s cities.

I had only heard of the rich vistas that the Konkan landscape offered. The ride offered hills, the seaside, green forests, pastures, quaint villages and everything a landscape can offer to please our eyes, minds and senses. We had anticipated a lack of sign boards and deserted roads. On the contrary, milestones, helping villagers appeared at all junctions guiding us along the way. As we neared Kashid, or so we thought, signs of “Good Lodging and Boarding facilities available” appeared at the gates of several homes as did several resort signs pop up everywhere. We checked out the “Nandgaon” beach, didn’t like it so much, so moved a further 30 kms to Kashid where the white sands and clean water completely bowled us over. The holiday season being full on, the 4 star hotels and resorts such as Prakruti Resorts, Sarve huts, Kashid Beach Resort etc, were all full anyway. We opted for accommodation at one of the alluring sea facing bunglows that were converted to acco places. There are a variety of offerings in these suiting all pockets. We found a really nice place with clean hospitable rooms with all modern amenities and amazing food. The locals here are extremely hospitable and provide excellent service catering to your every need.

After parking ourselves at one such comfortable place, we headed to the Janjeera fort away from Kashid. Murud-Janjeera is another popular tourist spot further ahead of Kashid. The beach of Murud is amazing too though a wee bit crowded. The main attraction here is the imposing fort of Janjeera which looms large right in the middle of the sea making it invincible. Many battles were fought here and I could well hear the roar of the sea and the thunder of cannons from the fort protecting it from enemies. This historic fort, the guide told us was 900 years old. Hats off to our ancestors who built this monument that still stands proud despite all the weathering inflicted by wind and water thus belittling modern day buildings that collapse with the slightest tremor.

The sea always instills in me a wonder, awe and a reverence to Him who has created it. The vast expanse of water never ceases to amaze me. The Sea seems to me, alive, humongous and sometimes terrifying even though the breeze by the sea brings a peace to me that can be sought no where else. The spirit of all those creatures within, I guess, imbibe their spirits in the sea which takes up the form of a benevolent benefactor being the source of all that we are today in the form of being a part of the water cycle, or casting its malevolence to strike in the form of typhoons, hurricanes, to remind the world, the earth with all its elements is not to be taken for granted.

Anyways, coming back to the trip, the next morning, we headed back home bidding farewell to the azure waters and the pearly sands. We stopped by the Birla temple that was on the way, We stopped after every few minutes to savour the scenery for the last time and capture more images for posterity of the earth that still is today, eat by a stream flowing by, visit the Birla temple enroute, buy the local honey at a farm, visit a village temple. Well, all good things finally end (otherwise they wouldn’t be good, isn’t it?). We braced ourselves once again to face the horns, the smoke, hordes of people, noise, and the hustle-bustle of what they call urban life.

This post was first published on Richlandtalk.blogspot.com

Richa

Categories: Other Travel Blah | 3 Comments

Is Demonetisation A wake-up Call For Women That Cash Cannot Be Trusted

While homemakers’ plight after demonetisation has been highlighted, does it also point to the need for at least educated women to start moving away from cash and into investments?

As India continues its fight against corruption, terrorism, and embarks on a path to development, the demonetisation move has caused much joy as well as heartburn across segments of society. As India Inc and the salaried middle class who have paid their taxes for years, hail this move, the poor, the traders and the ones who have depended on cash are wringing their hands in misery as businesses have been hit in a now literally, cash-strapped economy.

While certain segments of society have obviously been hit, there is a huge distressed segment that has been largely ignored: that of homemakers in India.

 Stories have come to light of many homemakers stashing away cash for emergencies and for their own needs, away from the prying eyes of husbands and in-laws. While the media has been decrying the move for these housewives who have had to declare their stash to their husbands and families, what many fail to appreciate is that now these very same homemakers will be forced to think of means to put this same money into the bank. Not only will their money be secure in the bank, but more importantly, the money will grow with inflation.

Read more…

This article by me has been first published on Women’s Web.

 

 

Categories: News, Views and Reviews, Other Travel Blah | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Mumbai Cycling Diaries

Fitness has been on the top of my agenda for this year and I have finally won bragging rights on achieving my goals! It has been an interesting journey starting with a crash diet that completely backfired and I gained weight instead of losing it! There on, it was all about eating healthy and going all out to shed those kilos. And I was surprised that it was fun all along thanks to Cycling!

Cycling around Mumbai as many of you know has been part of the journey. And what a great ride it has been. While the cycle was purchased purely with errands in mind almost 5 years ago, I took to cycling for fitness only this year.

And as usual, with everything one does, there are bouquets and brickbats! But my takeaways from them –

  • No matter what they say, one can’t be too old to do anything, including cycling.
  • If Indian roads are unsafe for cyclists, they are also unsafe for pedestrians, motor bikes, cars and buses. Just get the right gear – a helmet and a flashing rear light at night are bare essentials and you will be set. 
  • If you cycle, you tend to discover amazing breakfast places that serve authentic cuisines at great prices. And trust me, that breakfast after a long ride is the most satisfying and guiltless as it can get! You can dig into that extra buttered pav at an Irani café in South Bombay, hot steaming batata Vadas at a Maharashtrian joint in Dadar and have extra helpings of the sugary filter coffee at Matunga all in a day.
  • The urban jungle may suddenly seem greener and cleaner as you discover quiet shady neighborhoods with signs of ‘Birds twittering, quiet please’ or the like, secret massive gardens that nobody knew about and nooks that have amazing views.
  • It is possible to be motivated to wake up at 5 am in the morning to go for a spin. I usually still get the feeling of anticipation of a Himalayan expedition the next day.
  • Go Solo. One does not need company for cycling. Solo cycling means you can ride at your own pace, feel the wind in your hair and do all that introspection. Although it is great if you have the company for breakfast.
  • Random bikers and rickshaw wallahs will come and tell you to not ride the cycle even if you are on the extreme left of the road on a straight path. Incessant honking will happen even if you were an inch away from disappearing into a wall riding on the leftmost inch on the road. Claim your space and learn to Ignore. 
  • Join a cycling group for that extra push, learning and great breakfast sessions. There are many such groups budding across the city. They are great avenues for getting to know different people, learning much from them and great company for breakfast!

And while you ponder over if it is a great idea for you to start cycling, here are some pictures of roaming around Mumbai on the saddle. 

If you need any further motivation, let me know!

Ahoy Arabian Sea

The iconic David Sasoon Library

Early morning rays on a Victorian building

A sneak peak at the Queen’s necklace – Marine Drive

Hearty breakfast time

Categories: India, Mumbai, Other Travel Blah | Tags: , , , | 7 Comments

The dream trip

A dream trip…8 countries in 8 days screamed an advertisement of a popular tourist agency. Another countered saying they would do 10 countries in 8 days and all travel arrangements taken care of including hotel stays, travel and a wonderful chef who would accompany the group. Now that is a dream vacation for some.

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And I was wondering, would that ever be my dream trip? But again, I probably have had several dream trips now, none of which involved 10 countries in 8 days! I doubt if I could travel that fast even in a dream. Not to say, it isn’t a great idea to cover/checkmark more in less, but would that be a vacation? I would need a vacation from a vacation after doing 10 countries in 8 days.

Coming back my idea for a dream vacation, I would do 1 country, or maybe 2 locations in 8 days. Absorb each place for what it is worth and take back memories that are not a blur of travel! Well, I recently did just that…at Paris where I spent an entire week at Paris alone! Of course, I got plenty of weird looks after I answered ‘Just Paris?’ twice over to their question ‘Just Paris’, ‘Nowhere else?’.

Now planning is the part that takes up a chunk of time which I dread. Given that we Indians have to go through quite a rigmarole to get a visa stamped, it is important to get all sorts of documents well in time. Thankfully, sites like Yatra have made this easy to slice and dice data and use all sorts of filters to arrive at the cheapest and the best options for International Flights and hotels. The fewer the places, the less the time spent in planning, booking, researching and merely travelling! I preferred staying in hostels, so I looked up hostel booking sites for this. All done in a jiffy and money saved through miles, redeemable points on Yatra and booking hostels over hotels!

It always is fun to steep yourself into the place even before you get there. So, I ended up reading plenty of Paris based books that made it all the more enjoyable when I found so much of the place familiar (at least the names!).

When you plan fewer places, it is easier to research as well. And you know quite a lot about a place rather than know nothing of many places. And you get to sit in the garden and have a picnic lunch infront of the Eiffel tower and admiring it instead of having to go right away after the photo-op! And you can devote a whole day to one museum and to shopping!

I had an absolute ball soaking (in the rain and the sun and the cold), in the Parisian atmosphere. The museums were absolutely amazing as were the gardens and merely commuting in the subway and walking around was a joy in itself! But again, the best part indeed was taking each day as it came, and not having to rush from one place to another. Again, I met people who were seeing 4 museums in one day and I certainly am glad I didn’t have to rush through and just checkbox all the ‘must-do’s’.

Do let me know what you would enjoy…seeing more and taking back several GBs of photos or seeing less and taking back a bucket of memories!

Categories: Europe, France, Other Travel Blah | Tags: , | 5 Comments

Paris for Art lovers

Well, where do I even start on this topic. Paris has been the stronghold of art and culture and is the ultimate destination for art lovers. It is unfortunate, but the Indian education curriculum has no place for teaching anything about art, or patronizing it. Yes, we learn about a few monuments here and there, and a little bit about the Renaissance period but that is about it. I have learned about whatever little I know from books I have read, particularly Somerset Maugham who has written many a story based on the life of writers, Parisian society, authors, parties and soirees’, and many of his protagonists spent considerable time in Paris. Particularly notable was the Moon and the Six Pence based on the life of Paul Gauguin, the French painter who gave up his ‘corporate slavery’ job (yes even back then) to become a painter who eventually moved to Tahiti. This apart, other research and visiting some museums in the US and Italy, made me appreciate the scale of the artist movements and how important they were in Europe.

Although Paris has so many museums, big and small, I will cover just some of the larger ones here that are well worth a visit. Infact, every church, cathedral and palace – big or small, is a museum in its own right too! I wouldn’t bore you with details on all the museums.

I started by visiting the Orsay museum, the bastion of the Impressionism and some famous modern artists. Monet, Manet, Renoir, Picasso, Gauguin,..you name the artist and he was there if he had created any ‘impression’ back then! The Orsay Museum has a massive collection of Impressionist, classical and paintings of several genres..I won’t bore you with the details, but I spent 4 hours at this museum alone! The Orsay museum is also interesting for the construct of its building. Infact the Orsay museum was originally a train station! You can still see the large clock and the linear structure of the station when you see the museum from the outside as well as from inside.image

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If you like Impressionism, you could also consider visiting the smaller Orangerie museum across Orsay across the river Seine popular for its Claude Monet’s water lilies, certainly well worth a visit. I had seen smaller paintings of Monet’s water lilies, but the huge canvases here, certainly were not to be missed!  In addition to Monet, the museum also covered works of art by Picasso, Henry Matisse, Paul Cezanne, Andre Derain and so many others. You can also buy the combined Orsay-Orangerie museum ticket for a cheaper price from either of the places.

imageThe grandest of them all, was ofcourse the Louvre. The world famous glass pyramids made more famous by the Da Vinci code, amongst the masses, beckoned.  This was among the last destinations I saw while at Paris..I guess I was saving the best for the last..And I wasn’t disappointed. One word to describe the Louvre is Huge. One just cannot see everything in a day here! With an amazing building and architecture, the Louvre takes enough time while on the outside as you take photos! The famous lines aren’t really that long, in off-peak season and there is no need to buy tickets in advance. Infact, there are enough automatic vending machines once you are past the security lines (that one has to go through anyway). The other trick to avoid the lines is to use the lesser known Carousel shopping mall entrance which has barely any line.

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Inside the Louvre

Once inside, you can either head straight to the Mona Lisa like most people do or keep it for as you amble along! However, planning in advance would be good so that you don’t miss any of the paintings you do want to see. It is also worthwhile to pick up an audio guide or a guide-book before you head into the museum for a more knowledgeable experience rather than being lost in the sea of paintings well known and lesser known.

Personally I think I enjoyed the Orsay museum even more than the Louvre as it was just a bit more intimate unlike the intimidating Louvre and its sea of paintings that in the end brought in some fatigue.  Go see the Mona Lisa, but be prepared to wonder what the hype is about when Leonardo da Vinci has seemingly so many better works of art, but well, what do I know!

The other museum I liked was the Chateau of Versailles, the home of the French royalty including the (in)famous Marie Antoinette who liked cake (more than bread J). The palace was splendid and well, to cut a long story short, had an amazing museum gallery. Amazing gardens, pictures and a grandiose building in itself.image

And then there are other museums too worth a visit…the Picasso museum, the Dali museum, the Pompidou center and other smaller galleries..all superb places to explore.

You can also consider taking an art walk through the art district of Montmartre. This is where all the artists lived back in the day. See where Van Gogh lived and the haunts of Picasso. A scenic tour through the hilly Montmartre later you, I will guarantee happiness!

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imageAll in all, if you are a museum fan, Paris is a fantastic destination to be at, although I would say I loved the city of Florence and Rome in that order as well for this reason. If you are a first time museum visitor, do grab some literature before you head into the museum, and that’s the only way to enjoy the priceless artefacts on display!

Categories: Europe, France | Tags: , , | 8 Comments

A road trip to remember

A look through some old photos led me to memories of the first long road trip I had ever undertaken. It was the year of 2010 when S and me were in the United States of America. With its massive six to eight lane smooth as butter highways, US is a dream place for a road trip from anywhere to anywhere! Further you get to rent the choicest of cars through Avis or Hertz.

My first road trip, the first of many, lasted for around 10 days on the west coast of the US in the picturesque state of California in the month of November. Flashes of the changing scenery come back to me as I go back down memory lane. From white conifers, to picturesque towns in California, the vines at Napa, the coastal route and finally an arid desert landscape! We saw it all in one trip!

A trip to Washington DC and the Shenandoah National Park

Our itinerary started with visiting the lovely Yosemite National park, one of the best National parks in the US.  The trip saw me seeing my first snowfall ever and I can never forget the sight of those lovely tall conifers all along the road on the white road that stretched ahead of us.  Fortunately, when we set out it stopped snowing, and the world outside felt like Paradise! That is one picture that will stay with me forever along with the stillness on the road in all that beauty.

A trip to Yosemite Valley

The road to Yosemite

We continued our journey to San Francisco through San Jose and onward to Los Angeles.  The journey to LA from San Francisco was in one word marvelous. The coastal road also known as Highway 1 is one of the most scenic routes in the world with its breath taking views at each turn and almost all along the road. The blue of the Pacific Ocean stretches along the road and is definitely a sight to remember. We halted at the scenic town of Santa Barbara with its incredible views and also just for the fact that I used to watch the silly soap with my mom back in its heyday!

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Along the way!

A fun trip to the Universal studios at Los Angeles later saw us going to another national park – the very grand…Canyon! Another fantastic national park covered in this one trip and a sunset to remember. But wait, the trip wasn’t over yet! We had to end with a bang, and what better way to end it but to go to Vegas! Yet another landscape was covered unlike everything we had seen in California! A road through the arid, scorched desert to the burgeoning oasis of Vegas.

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Sunset at the Grand Canyon

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Vegas ahoy!

This certainly was a road trip to remember through two states, five and I don’t think I will ever have one as fun as this! It wouldn’t have been possible without those fantastic roads, a great SUV with possibly CEAT tyres (or may be not in the US) and all the coffee to keep us awake at all times of driving!

‘I’m chronicling my road trip adventure for CEAT Tyres in association with BlogAdda.

 

Categories: Other Travel Blah | 2 Comments

10 steps to a solo trip for the Indian woman traveller

After the last post I had written about women and independence, where I solemnly decided to undertake a solo trip, I did go on one! It probably isn’t a big deal, it was also not about ‘self-discovery’ and it wasn’t because I wanted to be a tad adventurous. It was a trip of pure pleasure to do what I wanted, eat as many chocolates as I wanted to with no one watching, go where I pleased for as long as I wanted and also not have to change the baby’s diapers and manage the trip between her eating, sleeping and pooping times!

While the trend is catching up in India, there are still a lot of inhibitions, some warranted for and some unwarranted for. Although there isn’t much that hasn’t been unsaid about solo travel, here are some of my experiences and tips from this trip.

 

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Cycling at Brugge, Belgium

 

My 10 tips to having a great international solo trip for an Indian woman traveler –

  1. Choose the right destination – For a first trip I wouldn’t choose a city in Afganistan or a Naxal ridden city or a solo hike to a crocodile infested place in Australia somewhere. I would rather choose a girly destination that would allow me for luxurious travel without hardship! After all, it is the toil of home I m taking a vacation from! Paris ticked off all the girly boxes for me – security, shopping, slickness and simplicity of public transport!
  2. Manage the family – If you have kids, see that they can be well taken care of in your absence. Plan around a long weekend when the hubby will be home, plan around when in-laws or parents are visiting (especially ;)), or just leave your kids at your really nice parents/inlaws! Your kids really can survive a week without you. Mind you, don’t tell them immediately as you start planning! After you have booked the airplane tickets and done the visa, break the news to your parents, in laws, husband/boyfriend etc in order of heavy opposition and convince them it is not unsafe, bad, you are not having a break up or have gone crazy etc. Once the tickets are booked no ones gonna stop you! I had quite the mix of reactions when I announced my trip (which weren’t unsurprising!)
  3. imageResearch or no-research – The easiest strategy is to go to the tourism office at the airport or station and pick up all the brochures and maps and ask them how to get wherever!  But for all those deals and cheap prices (and cheap thrills like seeing where a Bollywood movie was shot), toil a little and read up before you go! I even watched a you-tube video to check out how to take the train from the airport to the hostel and re-read a Somerset Maugham to be able to go to the places his protagonists frequented. But that apart, research  to find the right places to stay or visit, read safest areas. Reviews are a plenty on all sorts of websites now. I stayed in a hostel so I barely felt alone with a lively atmosphere wherever I stayed with plenty of young travellers all around. And I or anyone else didn’t have to be worried about ‘staying alone’ at night in a strange place.
  4. Do everything you haven’t – like packing really light because you are gonna have to lug that bag yourself, wander around at wherever you want to go, do fun stuff like cycling, and spend as much time as you want without having to push a pram or pull a husband along at the museum they find really boring, shop for an entire day (or till your money runs out)..but don’t get get carried away and do anything you will regret!
  5. Use Technology – Offline google maps is a boon, there is wifi everywhere at coffee shops, restaurants…will all let you have more fun and let you stay connected, read up on stuff you are visiting, looking for directions, posting photos etc.
  6. Be narcissistic for a change! – Take lots of selfies. Oh well, one won’t be young forever! You will always look better today without make up than in 5 years with make up! And please buy a selfie stick or else like my photos, you will be in the ‘face’ with the same grinning expression for each photo! I had a selfie stick too when I started out – the first day the stick did not work, the second day the phone did not, the third day I lost it! So maybe keep a spare!
  7. Dine alone – I never felt this strange, but really, it is not weird to be dining alone or sitting by yourself in a coffee shop. Shed those inhibitions and soak in the atmosphere at a lively place by the street. Some creepy Russian tourists (who may not be Russian or tourists) may approach you but hold tight to your purse and passport always whatever you say!
  8. Being by yourself may get a trifle boring maybe. So a way out may be planning some group activities like walking tours, a cooking class, etc. There are all sorts of group tours organized which are really nice and you could meet some interesting people on those. I did a couple of walking tours which were really nice.
  9. Don’t follow the advice given to little Red Riding Hood in its entirety. Talk to strangers, but really, not on the road and streets. Maybe at the hostel. Be safe. Be wary. Be conscious and keep that purse and passport safe. Always!
  10. Very importantly, stay in touch with your family every day and let them know you are safe…or they won’t let you do this again!

If my visit inspires any of the women who know me, I will certainly be delighted! All I can say is, there is never gonna be a good time to take a solo trip. If you like the idea of having one, just start planning even if it is for next year!

Categories: France, Other Travel Blah | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

India’s own broadway musical at the The Kingdom of Dreams – Jhumroo – Review

Nautanki and Naach-gaana are the two things that define Bollywood. The pseudo gaon of Gurgaon, the sister city of Delhi has grown many times in the last few years in terms of not just the number of malls and offices. Previously just an office hub, Gurgaon now competes with Delhi in the sheer number of entertainment options that it provides.

Set up in Gurgaon, The Kingdom of Dreams is an entertainment center that plays Indian versions of Broadway musicals. Bollywood reigns supreme in all the shows they have with dance and music galore. I was fortunate to find the time to watch their theatrical production Jhumroo which is a tribute to the singing sensation of the yesteryears, the very versatile Kishore Kumar. Jhumroo is produced by the Great Indian Nautanki Company, which is a joint venture between Wizcraft and Apra group.

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I went to the 840 seater plush Nautanki Mahal that was hosting the show I had come to watch. A fairly large auditorium, we looked forward to the evening of razzmatazz and glamor.

The story revolves around the life of one of his ardent fans, Bholenath Tripathi played by the Gaurav Gera of Jassi Jaisi koi nahi fame, who loves to sing but is terrible at it! In Bollywood style, thrown in is a girl played by Shweta Gulati who he wants to woo. While he takes part in a nation-wide singing contest on TV to win her heart, Kishore Kumar descends from the heavens to help him achieve his desire. If he manages to do so despite the reality of his voice, is what the story is about, but well this would be obvious to those who watch Bollywood, but then again, that is immaterial in this musical comedy.

With gliders and motors that fly, brilliant backdrops that appear and disappear effortlessly, imagery that is projected on three screens and the walls of the theater, dancers who descend from the stage with bright props, the execution of all the effects in this musical is brilliant and seamless. I have watched musicals such as the immensely acclaimed Lion King and Mary Poppins, but I would certainly say this one was at completely different level and I enjoyed it many times more! While the story and the slapstick comedy plodded along at times, the dancers mesmerized as they whirled and lit up the stage (literally too) in their flamboyant costumes, and vivacious choreography.

Kishore Kumar’s hit songs including Om Shanti Om, Saamne yeh kaun aaya, Ek ladki bheegi bhaagi thi, Hawa ke saath saath and many more were included in this musical and had the audience tapping their feet and even participating in the dance at the end with gusto!

The Kingdom of Dreams, is not just a venue to house fantastic shows, but an experience. Built to represent the culture of India, one can visit the foodcourt and stores themed around the various states of India.  All in all, a fantastic experience, and I left humming the songs of Kishore Kumar.

I hear the other show called Zangoora is even better than Jhumroo and I can’t wait to be back here to be able to catch that show!

Categories: Other Travel Blah | Tags: | 1 Comment

A weekend trip to Nasik

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Where next? …The Ramayana Trail at Panchvati, Nasik

It is better to make plans to local places that work rather than grand plans to exotic places that don’t work.

With that as the motto for a long weekend, we embarked upon zeroing on a place at drivable distance from Mumbai that wouldn’t have us paying an arm or a leg or at least a very fat undeserved amount!

We zeroed in on the not-so-sleepy city of Nasik at an easy driving distance from Mumbai to be our first quick vacation distance. Nasik is a city at about a 4 hour fabulous drive from Mumbai.

My memories of Nasik from the days bygone, was a place I had visited before I got married to ward off the evil eye and basically indulge my parents in eliminating the evil ‘Kal Sarpa dosh’…some terrible planetary alignment that would have made my marriage prospects really bad! And all the evilness foretold could be done away with a mere Pooja at the holy city of Nasik at the ancient temple of Trimbakeshwar. That simple! Well, if it were not for superstitions, I guess, half the religious tourism wouldn’t be what it is today!

Religious tourism aside, Nasik has a lot to offer in terms of non-religious place to see as well, and one can easily spend 2-3 days exploring the city.

Fun facts about Nasik –

  • Nasik has one of twelve Jyotirlingas at the famous temple of Trimbakakeshwar – A Jyotirlinga is considered to be a manifestation of Lord Shiva. It is believed that the Jyotirlingas are columns of fire piercing through the earth.
  • Nasik is the largest wine producing district in India with the most well-known Indian brand Sula. Also home to winefests such as the SulaFest during harvest season
  • The Currency note press and the India security press are located at Nasik to print Indian currency notes and government stamp paper
  • Houses a unique Coin museum
  • Is one of the four destinations in India that hosts the largest peaceful religious congregation globally – the Kumbha Mela
  • Panchavati in Nasik is the setting of one of the most loved epics in India – the Ramayana
  • The father of Indian Cinema – Dadasaheb Phalke was from Nasik. You can visit a memorial in his name here

 

Religion/Mythological sites –

The Kumbh Mela

Legend has it that the nectar from the famous churning of the ocean by the Devas and Asuras had fallen in four of the places, where the Kumbh mela is held today. These include Ujjain, Allahabad, Haridwar and Nasik. The Kumbh mela is touted to be the largest congregation of religious pilgrims in the world and has put Nasik on the global map for religious travel. The city is replete with temples, some really ancient, some less so and some really quite new to fool gullible tourists into parting with their money under the guise of religion.

Ramayana trail

In addition to the Kumbh Mela, Nasik is where the most important parts in the Ramayana played out. Panchavati and Tapovan where the trio of Rama, Sita and Lakshman had made their home is a part of Nasik. Earlier the picturesque forest, Panchavati is now alas, yet another urban jungle. In Panchavati, there is an entire Ramayan trail which traces the ‘Aranya Kanda’ (Book of Forest) from the Ramayan. On the trail, you can find out where Lord Rama, Sita, Lakshmana had stayed while at Panchavati, the location of the infamous cutting off of Surpankha’s nose, where the ‘Lakshman Rekha’ had been etched by Lakshman and where Sita was carried off by the evil Ravana. You can also see the banyan trees which give the forest its name of being the forest of the Panch or Five Vata (Banyan) trees.  Another spiritually significant place is the Ramkund, which is a holy tank where Lord Ram and Sita used to take a bath during their exile. This is a place where ashes of the deceased are immersed to help them achieve liberation. However, I would take most of these supposed spots with a pinch of salt or kumkum or whatever! Apart from a few, many of these seem to have cropped up as modern structures in a concerted effort by all the tourist stakeholders in Nasik to add to some spots worth viewing. Of all the places on the Ramayan trail, I frankly liked only the spot on the banks of the Godavari below. Who’s to say it is real or not. But I don’t think the GPS really existed at the time, for us to be able to drop pins on where exactly these purported spots are.

A warning to those uninitiated into the religious travel – Most ancient temples in India are super crowded – probably seem to be more real than the modern ones. The temples of Trimbakeshwar, Someshwar, the Sita Gupha (cave) are ridiculously crowded with throngs of devotees lining up for an exalted ‘darshan’ or viewing of the Lords for ‘blink and miss’ facetime lasting roughly between 2 seconds and 10 seconds depending on how strong you can be to resist the pushes when you least expect them. So for a 2 second darshan you can expect to be in the queue for 2 hours and yet be contented after the darshan. You can also try paying your way (Rs 200 per person at Trimbakeshwar) into an express queue that will still take you 1.5 hours for the darshan. Thankfully, there are plenty of people manning all the queues and with the numerous barricades there is little possibility of breaking the queue and starting arguments.

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Trymbakeshwar Temple (Wikimedia commons)

Popular religious places at Nasik are the

  1. Trimbakeshwar temple where the river Godavari originates. This temple is one of the 12 Jyotirlings in India
  2. Ramkund
  3. Kalaram temple at Panchvati,
  4. Someshwar temple
  5. Muktidham temple
  6. Sundarnarayan temple
  7. Kapileshwar temples
  8. Sita Gumpha at Panchvati

A point to be noted is that most of these religious places do not allow photography, so whatever pictures I have are from wikimedia commons.

Wine tourism

Nasik is now purported to be the wine capital of India. One of the warmest regions in the world to create wines, Nasik offers in India what Napa offers in the US. A wine tourist destination (if not the finest wines in the world)! As late as the 1990s an entrepreneur Rajeev Samant, set up the first vineyards in Nasik noting its conducive climate and soil. From a few acres in the 1990s the Sula vineyards are now a whopping 1900 acres of land and one of the biggest wineries and brand of Indian wines. The Sula vineyards now offer wine tours, wine tasting and a snazzy resort with lively restaurants. Expect hordes of tourists on all weekends!
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Other attractions

The Coin Museum – The Coin museum set up in 1980 is a vast collection of coins tracing India’s evolution and history through the ages through its various currencies, dynasties and rulers.

The Pandavleni caves – These 2000 year old caves are a group of 24 buddhist caves built atop a hill. You need to climb about 200 steps to reach the caves and also feast on picturesque vistas osf the city below. These caves may not be as grand as the Ajanta-Ellora caves at Aurangabad, but they are quite amazing to visit if you are around.
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The Pandavleni caves (Wikimedia commons by Mrunal12)

There are also plenty of other places around Nasik that are picturesque to visit. Amongst these are

  1. The Saputara hillstation
  2. Dudhsagar falls
  3. Bhandardara hillstation
  4. Bird Sanctuary

All in all, a great weekend destination from Mumbai/Pune with plenty to see and do. Not much to do for kids, but well, one needs to just find a park to keep them entertained.

Categories: India, Maharashtra | Tags: , , , | 11 Comments

Seeking the I in the Independence

I recently read an article on women and independence and wanted to share my two-bit. What does independence after all mean to women? It is true that our Indian system, does not give us enough space to be that way. From living a sheltered existence at home before marriage, when family typically manages almost everything a girl needs – from how she travels, to her shopping, to where she studies etc to the married life when the husband does everything the dad would!

As a girl, my dad was often out. A great many things that my mom and I would have rather have him do were done by us. When I think back about those times, I remember they weren’t that easy. But, I believe, those are what made it so easy down the line. When you drag your broken-down two-wheeler for miles without having a father or brother to call, move houses independently, bribe telephone walas to get a connection (back then), go meet officials from random departments like electricity, water etc when you move houses, chase construction workers to fix things, pay bills, ward off crazy stalkers, chase mice and lizards out of your house (yeah, trust me this one ain’t easy for us girls!), all in your teens, you know there is only one survival skill that is of utmost importance. Independence.

True independence for me came with my first job. It can come for others who have had a chance to live in a hostel or share an apartment. You are finally financially independent. I remember the headiness of my first job! Wasn’t that the best time of my life? No accountability to anybody, No real responsibilities, no rush to get married, a steady income to splurge with friends, no immediate plans to study more! In short so much freedom! I remember how easily I would travel back then alone without any qualms. In ST buses to unknown destinations and remote villages, walk happily on the streets of the city just happy to be there alone, take long walks on the marine drive after work every day and just enjoy the solitude. The café culture hadn’t caught on to a great extent then, but even those years would see me enjoying my cuppa chai at now I think were shady restaurants and to hell with the glances I got from other tables. I wonder where that spirit has gone now. Why do I require people about me now?

Circa married life, suddenly, I have become dependent. Perhaps it is just easier now that I have someone to do some of the heavy lifting that are more of ‘guy’ responsibilities that I didn’t have a chance to pass on earlier. I need company to travel, to shop, to watch movies, plays, to eat out. I need someone to plan the trips I travel on. I need opinions and affirmations to buy a utility, to invest my money, to decide the menu of the day. I need someone to call people to get things fixed at home if they are broken. I pretend I can’t reach the top shelf of the cupboard and I can’t lift the tiny suitcase to put it in. Suddenly, I have assumed the responsibilities I never asked for or like. Like cooking, managing the domestic help, de-cluttering the house, and keeping everything in its place.

Many of these things have made my life easier. But off-late I have wondered, is too much dependence a good thing? After all, if I could go watch a movie alone, wouldn’t I be able to watch more movies given that I will never be able to watch one with my husband till the time my daughter is older!? I would have bought that coveted closet a long time ago and would have made worthy investments instead of waiting on for advice on what to do with them. If I can explain to my family that exercise, writing and reading are not ‘extra-curricular’ activities for me..They are a part of who I am. Now wouldn’t that make me fitter, and happier? Being able to do the things I love?

Perhaps we women need to reassert some of that independence, flavors of which we may have tasted at some point in our lives. To find some time to get away from the humdrum responsibilities, that will continue to bind us. To be with friends, to be alone, to seek oneself and to be able to do things for oneself.

On that note, I hope women out there, find ways and time to get away. Companionship and family are amazing things, but finding time for oneself, spending it with friends and doing the things you love can bring satisfaction and contentment.

In that spirit, I will plan the next trip alone! Just to get the spirit of self-discovery and the confidence to do things alone back! Stay tuned for updates.

A trip to Yosemite Valley

Categories: Other Travel Blah | 6 Comments

A trip to Yosemite Valley

Towering trees, bumbling bees;Azure skies, peaks old and wise;
Snowy pebbles, brooks that babble;Mystic mountains, springs and fountains;
Plains some mossy, still lakes all glossy;Icy cloaks, pines and oaks
Skulking bears, prancing reindeers;Scampering squirrels furry, coyotes in a hurry.
Rains and thunder, Nature’s wonder; Glistening snow, eyes that glow
Hills and vales, Treacherous trails; Winding roads, Glaciers once flowed
Myriad hues, beauty so true; Blue and Golden, resplendence beholden
White and green, a splendid scene; Pristine white, shimmering moonlight
Sculpted boulders, fire that smolders; Zephyrs trance, a verdant dance
Pindrop silence, sweeter than violins; A trickle of water, frozen in winter
Glorious clouds, Beauty endowed; The Great Half dome, God’s own home?

 

Mother Nature has drawn one of her priceless canvases in Yosemite National park with an elegance that makes her splendor even more beautiful. Big is beautiful at this national park known for its old wise sequoia trees that are the biggest in the world, the tallest waterfalls and the most challenging of peaks protecting themselves from nosy humans by the sheer force of nature again.

I fortunately was permitted to see this priceless picture on a sunny day while it was splashed with a pristine whiteness on the myriad hues of greens and yellows. I hated to sully the whiteness of it with my footprints. While I could not stop Aahing and Wowing and taking pictures, I realized that it was one of those places where a mere camera lens could not capture even a 50th of the beauty that the live canvas possessed.
Someone rightly said, when nature has a project, she is a genius at work. From the bare leafeless tree to the ice laden pine, she ensures each season has something wonderful to look at. I fall short of words here, to describe the endless vales of snow covered pines and cones that I saw and went past, the winding valleys covered with mist and sheer drops below overlooking unbelievable vistas making us want to stop at every twist and turn where there was space to stop and gaze.

 

Despite all the human advancement, nature still makes man feel miniscule on just seeing the vastness of what She can create. The United States has certainly preserved the park well, and I am pretty thankful and privileged to see such beauty in this world where almost every piece of habitable land has been captured by humans.

 

 

 

Categories: Americas, United States | Tags: , | 14 Comments

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