Category Archives: Travel

City In Sunshine

You never appreciate something unless you spend time away from it. It may be a friend, your parents or a collection of books. In Seattle, where the weather usually nine months of cloud, the thing I miss the most is sunshine.

To be honest, Seattle is not as depressing as people make it out to be. It does rain every so often but I have no reason to go crazy or kill myself. Sure it could use a little warmth but that only applies to the weather. Seattle is warm and welcoming. After spending time in the deep South where every state is solid red, it feels good to come to a liberal state.

When it’s sunny outside, the city comes to life. The shorts are out, people mill about taking walks, biking or simply take in the much needed UV radiation. It is a gorgeous place and it’s a crying shame if one has to remain indoors on a day like this.

Another one of my favourite sights is the imposing Mount Rainier. A dormant, snow-covered volcano, it is easily visible from anywhere around Seattle and looks intimidating. It has become a familiar sight but it is only visible on those rare cloudless days and this makes it all the more special. To prove my point, I will leave this right here

 

Tomorrow is another sunny day out. Perfect weather to complete my first half-marathon. See you at the finish line.

 

 

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No Point to the Poncho

At Niagara falls, I board the iconic “Maid of the Mist” with my parents. It’s their 25th anniversary and this trip is my gift to them. Before boarding, we are each handed a blue plastic poncho designed to protect us from the worst of the torrential spray that is expected to unleash it’s fury on us; we who seem to mock the might of the falls by daring to venture so close.

I have been warned that the ponchos, which are essentially just recycled garbage bags, will be of no use and we should expect to get drenched. That prediction is partially correct. As the boat makes it’s way past the American falls, the spray reminds me of the worst rain Mumbai has to offer. But the sight of the falls is so mesmerizing that I stare right into it, taking in the worst.

Moving past the American falls, we approach the even more magnificent Horseshoe falls. We are enveloped on three sides by the falls and the spray thrown up by the millions of litres of water that tumble towards the ground from hundreds of feet above resembles a tropical thunderstorm that one might expect to encounter in the Amazon rainforest. It completely overwhelms us and many passengers scurry to the back where they are somewhat protected. I want none of that. I stand right in the front and welcome the deluge. It is no surprise that I am soaked when we finally get back.

This experience makes me think about life, about growing up and about learning through experience. In a somewhat poetic mood, as I always am when overawed by nature, I muse that the poncho is akin to the comfort and protection that parents seek to provide. They have experienced much in life and seek to pass on their wisdom to the next generation. But deep down, they know that like that flimsy poncho, their words would only protect those who seek to remain in their shadows and actually want us to go out into the world and discover what life is really about.

There are those who find comfort in the fact that they are protected and perhaps do not feel that need to test the poncho. There are those still who are completely mindful of the fact that it may not be a great idea to test it out, but do it anyway. When you are exposed to world, ideas and perspectives rain down upon you and completely engulf you. You see, you feel, you think, you learn and once you experience the highs and traverse the lows, you never want to go back. The poncho exists whenever you want it, but ultimately, it is just a notional concept and you would like it to be nothing more.

Like the falls, life is spectacular. But to really know what is about, you have to welcome it with arms wide open and a smile on your face.

 

 

 

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Connection

Fall break called for a trip to the historic city of Savannah on the East Coast. I was walking through a park and I was wearing my Beatles t-shirt. Savannah is the kind of place where you find musicians playing soulful renditions on street corners and there was one such tuba player in that park.

He was playing an old blues tune when he spotted me, looked at my t-shirt, stopped playing the blues and started playing Norwegian Wood. I recognized the tune, turned without stopping and waved a thanks to him. He nodded and as I started to go out of earshot, he went back to his blues.

For just a 10 seconds, we connected and it made my day.

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Fall

Like Rucha, who is up at Maryland, I too have fallen in love with Fall. I felt I just had to share these pics of the trees in and around the Georgia Tech Campus.

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Which remind one of the immortal lines by Joyce Kilmer, “Poems are made by fools like me, but only God can make a tree.”

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The Long Drive

Visa interview over, and feels like its going to rain. Overcast skies tell me it will pour. Seems a shame to remain indoors. I want to share the exuberance I am feeling with anyone and everyone.

But strangely enough I am also experiencing something deeply contradictory. I don’t feel like having anyone around. I feel like being alone. Then it hits me. I want to see people and things but on my own terms. And I want to do it now.

I start up old faithful. Ready to get soaked once the heavens open up. I set out on the route to Madh Island. I haven’t been there in years. Certainly never on my bike. So I weave in and around the traffic till In-orbit mall, where that blessed mind-space road has been built and speed along it. I beam as I see the speedometer push 70 then 80 and then a sharp decrease as the speed bumps take over. No matter, they have saved my life once so I am grateful to whoever put them there.

I pull into Marve road and let my mind track back to the time when I used to live close by. The road has not changed one bit. I recall the times my Dad used to take me on long drives along this stretch when I was a kid on his old faithful – the 1991 Kinetic Honda which now only responds to his touch. I look out for the school where I gave my 10th standard board exams. The unusual sight of a Hindu Crematorium, a Muslim burial ground and a Christian Cemetery reminds me of how I used to shut my eyes tightly even during the day as we whizzed past. I look out for the hard-to-see turn which my father would take while dropping me off at swimming class. Also that stretch of road which precedes INS Hamla. There are boys fishing along the road, taking full advantage of the high tide.

I turn left at the junction which takes me towards Aksa and Erangal beaches. Past the posh Retreat Hotel. I have always wanted to stay there for a couple of days. I see the remains of Amrut Bagh, a small amusement park which was the site of our senior kg picnic. It has been several years since anyone has stepped inside though.

I ease off the throttle and take in all these sights. Remnants of my school days. I enter a small fishing village. The place stinks of fish, but I don’t mind, as a fishing village rightly should smell of fish. The roads continues. But the weather is playing games as there is not a single raindrop. In fact the sky is beginning to clear.

As the roads winds on, I see places where it is completely submerged under water which hasn’t drained since the last downpour 2 days ago. It is difficult for the Kolis who live here. A postal address in Malad but in reality, miles away from any help by the civic body. They are more concerned with sea links of course.

A short distance later the sea is right alongside the road. Madh Jetty approaches and in the distance I can see the tall buildings of Versova. Its a short ferry ride away but I decide to pass on that. Before I know it the road ends.

I just pause to take a look and I turn back. Back along the same road. I decide to stop at Aksa beach. Warning signs are posted everywhere, telling people not to swim there. Rightly so, since many greenhorns and experts have met their watery graves here. I walk along the clean beach and as I turn my gaze to the sea, the clouds part, giving way to bright, golden sunshine.

At that moment it strikes me. The restlessness I was feeling for so many days, it was just due to my reluctance in accepting the fact that my time in SPCE had ended and a new life in Atlanta beckoned . And I make my peace. Its a new life, but it certainly is not something bad. I feel brilliant.

Finally I make my way back to my bike and as I rev it up, I know that this is something else I must part with before I leave. I have not known my bike long enough, but I cannot leave it to gather dust. It would be like caging a bird. It is meant to wander, with or without me. I shake my head, wear my helmet and set off across the lonely road again.

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My wonderful IEEE trip

When I signed up to go on my college’s IEEE trip to Amritsar, Jaisalmer and Jodhpur in November, I expected something great because this year’s committee is filled with people whom I felt were very good at what they do. My classmates, for reasons best known to them, declined to join me on the trip and planned their own trip to Kullu Manali, etc. Finally it was only me, Jinju and Deepu (Project Fridays minus Debu) from BE Electrical who went on the IEEE trip.

The trip to Amritsar from Mumbai was extremely boring chiefly because 6 of us were isolated from most of the people we knew. But from the moment that journey ended, it was fern and excitement all the way.

I was expecting it to be biting cold in Amritsar and when we arrived I was not surprised that everyone of us felt like we were suffering from Parkinson’s. It took some time to get used to it but the wonderful hotel rooms made up for the cold. We stayed at S.G. Resorts and the experience was brilliant. And the food – fantastic. Really rich Punjabi food with loads of Paneer and the best part was, it was so cold there that we did not feel really heavy in spite of pigging out all the time.

The first day we went to Jallianwala Bagh. I was pretty depressed by the end of it and the short walk to the Golden Temple was spent in silence. My first glimpse of the Darbar Sahib in the middle of the Sarovar was something that will remain etched in my memories forever. The feeling of peace that I got there despite the rather large crowd seemed like a godsend and lifted the heaviness I felt after visiting the Bagh. A view of the Granth Sahib and a meal in the langar made me feel like a new man.

The next day we gave the Industrial visit to Khanna Paper Mills a wide berth and instead went to the local market which was not too productive either. That afternoon we left for the Wagah Border to view the ‘Beating the retreat’ Ceremony. The ceremony felt more like a shouting match between the two sets of guards – The Border Security Force on our side and the Pakistani Rangers on the other. It was nevertheless a very different experience and as we kept shouting slogans like Bharat Mata ki Jai and Vande mataram, i realized that the life we have in India despite the corruption and other nonsense, really is worth fighting for.

The next day we set out for a small station called Makkhu where we were supposed to board the Jammu Tawi Express for Jodhpur. The boarding was a near miss as we had assembled on the wrong platform. We boarded from the side which did not actually have a platform and since the coaches did not arrive in order meant a lot of chaos for the next hour or so after everyone got in from everywhere but it was all fine in the end.

We arrived in Jodhpur the next morning and immediately left for our camps at Jaisalmer. The ride was a bit long and a change of plans meant we had lunch at the famous Chandam Shree Hotel and went and saw Gadisar Lake first where we indulged in a spot of boating. We reached the camp late in the evening as the sun was just about to set and watched a wonderful folk dance performance which involved women picking up needles and blades with their eyelids and some major balancing acts.

Of all the things, the wonderful night view of the stars was blocked by dark clouds for the entire time we were there. It was actually drizzling in the desert and it was unfortunate that I had to give star gazing a miss. The tents were pretty warm and the food pretty fine.

The day after we went to Jaisalmer fort and had a beautiful view of the town. We managed to buy a Pagdi for Jinju’s surprise birthday which he knew we were going to have and also took in a fun camel ride back to the camp. Jinju’s birthday celebration went off pretty well and we expected to have a lot of fun the day after. However the next day was spent in the bus travelling back to Jodhpur and since we arrived at night we could not get anything done.

The hotel at Jodhpur was well worth the wait as the four star rooms seemed straight out of a movie. There was a bathtub and a swimming pool and for people like your’s truly who had not bathed for 3 days running it was heaven. There was a bit of dancing involved before dinner and the wonderfully cooked dinner itself which ended the day on a perfect note.

On the 17th, our last day, we went to see Mehrangadh fort and had a beautiful view of the Blue city and visited the famous Chamunda Mata temple. We had precious little time to buy stuff for people back home and the tour guide took us to some emporium where they were selling stuff at Mumbai prices and that was actually the only big disappointment of the trip.

A short visit to the hotel where we had late lunch and loaded our luggage on to the buses and we were on our way to the station. we boarded the Suryanagari express to Mumbai and arrived today just an hour late.

As it was my last college trip I really wanted it to be a special experience. When we realized that on the trip, it would only be the three of us without our class, I felt we would get bored of seeing each other’s faces. However I met a lot of people on the trip. My impressions of a few people changed and I gained many new friends. The IEEE committee went out of their way to make this journey good for us and they pulled it off admirably. They completely repaid my trust in them and this was really one of the best trips I have ever been on.

Me and Jinju wanted to make a documentary about the trip but the videos from the Golden temple and Jalianwalla bagh got erased. However we got some good videos and the birthday vids were also covered by Rohit and Ganapati’s special channel. Hopefully with a bit of editing we can still make it a cool Project Fridays video.

Many thanks to Pratap, Taha, Gurtej, Badrike, Ronnie, Divya, Anand, Srihari, actually everyone for making this an unforgettable experience.

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Matheran Mazaa

Thanks to Mumbai University postponing my Control Systems paper to 14th of Jan, we have a 12 day leave for Signal processing. We decided to make full use of the time by planning a one day trip to Matheran.

Vineet and I were supposed to leave at 4 am from our building to catch the 5.00 am train to Neral from Dadar. i set the alarm for 2.30 in the morning because I wanted to catch the last few minutes of the Arsenal game.

Flash forward to 4 am when I got a call from Vineet. I realized my alarm had not gone off and I was pretty late. I had a bath in water that was freezing because there was no time and to my surprise, exactly 12 minutes later we were taking a rickshaw to the station. It didn’t matter that I was late because Matoo and Gaurav came to Dadar even later than us and Chaukya and Kunal had bought tickets to Nerul instead of Neral and had to get it changed.

We reached Neral after a train ride that was laced with stupid electrical engineer jokes which made we wish I had not taken engineering in the first place (but then again so does everything else). A short taxi ride later we were at Matheran where we were charged 25 bucks to just get entry. We walked all the way to Matheran station because cars are mercifully not allowed inside.

We sat down to have breakfast at a seedy looking hotel with surprisingly good kaanda poha and we were soon ordering seconds. While we were leaving, the owner cum waiter cum cook cum accountant presented us with a bill for 350 bucks!!!! A complete rip off because he showed us the menu only after we had finished eating.

We bought a map and decided to walk in a great ellipse covering as many points as we could and saw some amazing scenery. After a really long short cut, we came to points with really weird names like Lord point, Gorilla Point, One Tree Hill, Porcupine Point. The One Tree Hill was a total scam because the tree was nothing more than a shrub. We could hear no echoes at Echo point and we were harassed by touts who wanted to give us rooms in cottages. But the splendid walking trails and the views made up for all the inconvenience.

We had to wait in line to get the tickets for the toy train journey from Matheran back to Neral, something I had not done since I was 2 years old. Below the train is a sheer drop of 3000 feet and we got some nice pics and videos of the view below.

From Neral to Dadar we took a crowded local train. It was in Dadar where the fun began when we found that there was a line fault and some of the local trains had been canceled. There was a huge crowd at dadar and we couldn’t even get on an Andheri local. We decided to take a bus home only to be told that the roads were clogged. We decided to walk to Mahim and with Kunal and Gaurav almost on the verge of collapse, we managed to find a relatively empty train and got into it.

We reached home at around 11 at night after walking total of 25 km that day. That’s the most I have walked in a day for close to seven years. Well at least its a start to my marathon ambitions 🙂

I still have 9 days to kill and so I have started to learn pencil sketching. It seems an uphill task because me and drawing are old adversaries but lets hope I make quick progress. Back to the drawing board….

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